“Gravedigging” Write Up by Rylan, Ella, and Carson

Summary part 1: Ella
“Gravedigging” by Sarah Goldman starts off with May, a nineteen year old girl who died in an accident, just three weeks before her 20th birthday. Her friend, Clarissa, is heartbroken from this, so she decides to resurrect May with necromancy. Clarissa has always been a strong advocate for magic; ever since she was little, she would conduct spells on animals, keeping them alive by tethering their lives ( in the form of crystals) on a bracelet. Once awake, May is startled and surprised at what Clarissa has done. Necromancy is illegal, making the duo on the run from the police. Dawn breaks just as they finish making the grave look untouched, and they soon head to a 24-hour diner in hopes to obtain some food. In this scene, Clarissa experiences minor drainage from the spell, showing that she is growing weaker and weaker as a side effect of bringing May back from the dead.

Summary part 2: Carson
They then book a motel and May learns from the tv that people are starting to realize she’s been resurrected. Upon this May goes back to her dads to get supplies and a necromancy book she bought for Clarissa. She and her dad run into each other and her dad is upset with Clarissa and her necromancy.

Summary part 3: Rylan
After entering her childhood home under the assumption that her father is not home, May begins to regret going to get this book. May goes to the living room to find the spell book that was going to be her gift to Clarissa before she died because she hoped it had a solution to her sickness. Then she heard a clang from the kitchen. Her father went to the linen closet which was in the living room where May was. May was found out and they stare at each other until her father breaks the silence. Her father then talks about how he knew Clarissa was a bad influence, and May insists she isn’t. They say they miss each other, and he lets her leave freely with the book. When she arrives back at the hotel, Clarissa is still sleep, and her condition looks much worse. May wakes up Clarissa and tries to tell her how this is all not worth her health; but, Clarissa says she couldn’t have done nothing. Clarissa explains her plan for them to catch a train and live on the run until it dies down. They kiss and hug until Clarissa falls asleep, then May contemplates if it was all worth it. May then proceeds to take her stone off Clarissa’s wrist, she sets out money, hair dye, clothes, and train tickets. She discovers that to undo the spell and make Clarissa better, she must smash her stone and die. May thought about her father, and how this was the best thing to do for Clarissa although she wouldn’t like it. She smiled, presumably at the thought of making Clarissa better, and crushed the amethyst with a crowbar. And the first person narrative ends at that point.

Analysis part 1: Ella
In Gravedigging, I learned a lot of useful information for writing my own stories. I related to Sara Goldman’s work because of its tendency to be somewhat dark,  humorous at times, and non-fictional. Her imagery really inspired me to do more visuals in my work, but at the same time try and not to make everything sensual details. I think she evenly balanced the plot with enough sensory attributes where the reader could get a good grip of what’s happening throughout the short story. 

She looked like she’d been run over by a truck a few times: dark circles, greasy hair, unwashed skin. Clarissa always tried to look as put together as people expected her to be.

In addition to her great use of visual elements, Goldman also did a fantastic job with her characters. I could almost see what they were seeing, feel what they were feeling, and so forth. Whenever a new character was introduced, such as her dad, the man at the necromancy protest, or even the ice cream worker, I visualized them so intricately and intensely that it felt like I was almost right there with them. I especially liked the diner scene when she was describing what how they (Clarissa and May) looked out of the ordinary.

I was wearing what I thought of as my synagogue dress, complete with pearls around my neck, but also a beanie I’d pulled from Clarissa’s bag. Clarissa was dressed like she expected to be going gravedigging, in baggy jeans and boots, her hair pulled back into a bun. She still looked like she was about to pass out at any moment. It was obvious she had been crying.

Not only were these two components appealing to me, but I kept on wanting to read more. Her work was addicting right off the bat, and I didnt want to stop at any moment throughout the whole thing. It sucked me in by the first line, and the drama kept getting more intense as I continued to read. It was emotional, raw, and really encouraged me to do my best when writing a piece similar to this.

Lastly, I wanted to touch up on her use of settings. The same setting for too long usually makes me antsy or bored, but Goldman’s use of backgrounds was very diverse. It shifted at least once every few pages, enabling me to stay alert when reading the different scenarios that Clarissa and May got into. The cemetery, the diner, both motels, and the ice cream shop all gave me a very fatigued feeling, like as if someone had put a sleep-inducing, dream-like film over the whole story. The scene where both of them are laying down in bed gave me a very drowsy and melancholy feeling, like as if this was the last time they would ever see each other again (and it was, oddly enough).

She didn’t say anything. I tipped my head back to stare at the ceiling. “I can’t believe you,”I said thickly. “I don’t want you to die for me.”

I was very heartbroken by the end, and I felt this wave of sadness rush over me once I had finished reading about these two characters.

Maybe it had all been worth it, for the chance to have this with Clarissa.

For something to invoke such a strong emotion in such a small amount of time (to me) is the sign of a very powerful writer. She conveyed what she wanted to say effortlessly, exposing a new side of literature that is very hard to accomplish. At no point in time when I was reading her work was I discontent, confused, or frustrated in any way. It had smooth flashback transitions, great usage of character emotion, and a general aura that I was very fond of.

In conclusion, Gravedigging was a great story, and I absolutely loved reading it. I got a lot of useful information out of it, such as how to draw the reader in, the amount of details I should use, and how to describe my characters and their backgrounds. She also gave me a few good things to use when I’m trying to transition into a flashback, not to mention the correct way a Freytag pyramid should be used. In the end, I have a great appreciation for her work, and I hope that one day I can achieve to write something that touches others as much as this piece touched me.

Analysis part 2: Carson
Craft element number one:

Clarissa wore that little piece of playground gravel she’d used for the spell on a chain around her wrist. She kept adding to the chain, too.

This is great foreshadowing because it sets the stage for the conclusion. This paragraph alludes to how May will break free and return to her grave if she subtracted to her bracelet, smashing the crystal that holds her life. To explain further, the way Clarissa resurrects something is by holding its life in a crystal, which she will then wear around her wrist. So if she wanted something to return to death she could smash the crystal and release their soul. Also the fact that she must have it on her at all times could be why she wears a bracelet. It was made clear that May needed to die or else Clarissa would slowly fade away. This is because Clarissa is not powerful enough to share energy with another human, something far more complex than a guinea pig.

Craft element number two, show don’t tell: this story had a really good show don’t tell message throughout the story but I’m going to explain how the author showed us that Clarissa was get more and more sick. It starts off in the diner when May thinks that,

Clarissa looked like she was about to fall over again.

Which escalates into Clarissa being tired and limp throughout the day and then at one point has a horrible nose bleed. All of these examples show the reader that Clarissa is getting worse the longer May is alive and living off her, which could then escalate in to Clarissa dying. Of course this sets the stage for the conclusion where May kills herself by smashing the rock that had her soul in it. Another example of the author showing us Clarissa is sick is right here,

She was shaking a little, even in her sleep, and her skin was so pale you’d think she was the dead one.

obviously the author wants us to know that Clarissa was not ok and would die without directly saying it. All in all, a great piece for show don’t tell example.

How do you go about foreshadowing? Do you make it obvious or slight like this short story?

Do you think this is a good example of show don’t tell?

Analysis part 3: Rylan
“Gravedigging” is a story about the bonds between two people, and like the original epic Gilgamesh how we cope with the loss of our loved ones. Clarissa had a power that society forbade her for using, but she had to use it to bring May back to life even if it meant altering the course of the rest of her life. She felt a strong sense of guilt for being the fault of May’s death. She even says,

“And you did anyway, and it was because of me. You can’t expect me to just let that happen, not when I could—what’s the point of all this, of all this shit I can do, if I couldn’t help you? What was I supposed to do?” 

The symbolism between the stones and the life of our character is very evident. A part that stood out to me was when the sickly Clarissa put her arm onto May, and May said that she didn’t move her arm because it was warm. Although, that is the opposite of what we would think considering that Clarissa is pale, sickly, and on the brink of death, but earlier in the text we discover the rocks glow and are warm. We later discover that May’s rock is piping hot, and that was probably what was making Clarissa warm.

May’s encounter with her father is the climax, and most significant point in the story because to May that encounter leads to her coming to terms with leaving her life behind. This propels the plot to May thinking about how either way her life is never going to be the same. One way, she’ll always be on the run and the girl that she loves will die and she will be alone. Or, she can allow the world to go on without her, and the girl she loves will get a shot at life again. This encounter leads to a lot of introspective thinking, although she wouldn’t necessarily have anyone to talk to anyways because Clarissa is dying, and there is a nationwide hunt for her.

May and her father speaking is ultimately what leads her to sacrificing herself for Clarissa and giving us a solid emotional resolution to our story. The only conflict that is not resolved, is the conflict between Clarissa and May themselves.

Clarissa hated being told she couldn’t do something—the fact that I was here at all was proof of that. Sometimes, she just needed someone to stop her, if she wouldn’t stop herself.

I am not necessarily sure, Clarissa could be done with May. May just brought Clarissa this grimoire probably filled with a more affective spell for raising the dead because we know that the spell used on May is essentially just an amped up version of the same spell she used to use in grade school to bring her class pet back to life. That may have been a little naïve on May’s part.

I would say that May thought of this and secretly wishes to be brought back, she says,

I’d tried to do want what she wanted this time. I couldn’t. I didn’t want this.

This could be hinting that she doesn’t want to be dead necessarily, but she wants Clarissa to be alive more.

The main thing to take away from this story is the artistic form expressed via symbolism, one thing relates to another and so forth. The web of ideas, and characters expressed all within one another. And the somewhat hidden political ideas about tolerance of other cultures and differences between people are instead expressed in magic. Which gives the reader the chance to enter this text with an unprejudiced mind and see our world from the outside looking in is amazing, and a new writing technique that /I am hopeful to explore in the future.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you had the ability to bring back something you love, but it would negatively affect the rest of your life how would you handle the situation?
  2. If you committed a grievous crime, would you avoid your parents for fear of them turning you in?
  3. Do you believe that May made the right choice, considering that Clarissa could have been caught anyway, and Clarissa obviously did not want May to sacrifice her life for hers? Why/Why not?
  4. *In your opinion, is Clarissa responsible for May’s death, and would her dying for May have been just? Why/ Why not?

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