In “1947” by Hari Kunzru, a young man named Shmidt moves out to the Californian deserts, and opens up an airstrip and café, where pilots can land to refuel, as well as stop for a drink. He hints at a greater purpose of the business, and it is soon realized; he is signaling aliens. Soon after he starts up the café, he meets a boy by the name of Clark Davis. Davis is rich and interested in Shmidt, giving him money for books and equipment, which Shmidt is quickly using to assemble quite the project. For two hours, every night, he sends out his message: WELCOME.
One night, Davis takes him to a brothel in Nevada, where he drinks for the first time in years and gets angry at the girl with him. He is thrown out of the brothel, and attempts to explain this to Davis with his backstory.
After leaving home, Shmidt had gotten a 14 year-old daughter or a big-shot pregnant, and been forced to marry her. He eventually grew to dislike her and began to beat her often. Especially when he was drunk. One night he drank too much and tied a noose around her neck and dragged her from the back of his truck for half a mile. Her father didn’t press charges, but told him that he must leave. So he went south. Eventually, the guilt became too much for him to bear, and he began to write down phrases that he found to be especially truthful. He began reading books on theology and philosophy, trying to gain an understanding of the world.
He decided he wanted to fly planes, but because of his eyesight could not, and so he went into technical school to become an engineer. In the military, he was assigned to a group designing and rushing out new bombers for use against the Japanese. He is content, believing himself to have atoned for what he did to his wife. Then one of his bombers is used to bomb Hiroshima, Japan. He quits the military and moves to the west, and starts his alien communication station to truly atone for all the things he has done. He continues to develop an understanding of the world and one night an alien ship lands outside his café and invites him in. He goes with them.
I chose this story for a variety of reasons. I admire the way that Kunzru is able to tell the entire life-story of a man without once losing the reader’s interest. He also makes Shmidt a character the reader supports at most points in the story, yet he is, in chronological order, a runaway, a pedophile, an abusive husband, and a pompous “prophet.” I would hope to be able to take such a terrible character and twist him in such a way to make him seem honorable at times to the reader. Despite the third-person narrator, the story felt like it was almost inside his head. I have never really written in such a long-term, close third-person before, and I’d greatly like to try it after reading this piece.
While highlighting, I looked for characterization or backstory, location, atonement, and miscellaneous things I found interesting.
I highlighted characterization because there was just so much of it and it was so important in this piece. It made the characters seem incredibly life-like and realistic.
I highlighted location because there was so many places listed in the story, I found it easier to fully comprehend the plot by keeping track of where Shmidt was.
I highlighted atonement because that is his driving force throughout most of the story, first to atone for Lizzie, then for Hiroshima.
Finally, I highlighted odd things I found in the plot, like the abscense of pants at various points. Many of these small details made the story come alive, and I would hope to be able to mimic the amount of authenticity in these.
-Has Shmidt atoned for what he’s done? Is what he is doing atoning?
-Does he truly believe in his message?
-Do you think there is any metaphor in the pants?
-Will the aliens do what he hopes they will do?