Daddy Issues

Summary Part 1: Liv

This story, titled, Gondwana, by Steve Almond, begins with the narrator, Myristica, riding the bus to her father’s house while absorbing the dreadfulness and misery of the people around her. Once she reaches her destination, she begins to recite to her father how living with him wasn’t working and she wanted to release herself from the father-daughter bonds that she was currently in. Her father, a television pundit, responded to Myristica’s statement by calling in one of his servants, whom Myristica named Niblet because of her perfect niblets for teeth, and began to discuss with her on whether or not she loved her father. Naturally, Niblet says that she does love her father but after she exits to go fetch a Diet Pepsi for Myristica father, he fires her. After Niblet was fired, Myristica begins to explain that she wants to move into her friend Twig’s basement, also providing her father with the legal documents to prove her desire to divorce him but her father is resistant, even though Myristica has provided a argument that has got her father stuck in a corner. As her father is thinking through the complications of the divorce, Myristica flashes back to previous conversations that she had had with her friend Twig about her father and their relationship.

Summary Part 2: Carson

Pages 6 – 9 starts out with meg and her dad continuing to argue. The dad insults twig and says he has never met her when he has many many times. Meg doesnt correct him noting that you cant correct her dad and says that whatever is his record becomes the record. Meg makes it clear she will not hurt his political career and ambitions. She then reveals that her dad is an orphan too. His parents killed each other but he covered it up with a story they slid on ice while driving to a civil rights protest. The only way she knows this is because she caught him crying after a gossip site was going to expose the truth. Her dads assistant tells her everything and then makes her sign a nondisclosure form. She apologizes but is cut off when her dad keeps getting business phone calls. The dad calls a new, terrified assistant in the room and tells her he needs to be downstairs and proceeds to rename her. Meg tells her what he means and then thinks about gondwana where you didnt have a name but a song people sang to call you. She then thinks of when her dad would come home when she was going to school after drinking and he would start singing classic rock to her.

Summary Part 3: Elise

The father’s new assistant, Janice, greets Meg before getting an order from the father. Meg wonders about what her name might have been had she lived in Gondwana, and what life would be like there. Her reminiscing turns to her father, who she remembers used to sing to her back in his “boozing days.”

She snaps back to reality when the assistant leaves, and her father asks her to not divorce him. Meg is reminded of the time her father took her to New Guinea on her thirteenth birthday, during which she attempted to jump out of his helicopter. They had found out that the orphanage that was her first home was destroyed, and the only person they could find to speak to was an ancient woman who hissed and spat and eventually left when they tried to talk to her.

Meg found out later that night that the woman had said that she did not belong to them, that she was not a slave. And Meg agreed with that, returning to reality with the thought that maybe that was the problem after all. She then notices that her dad has forgotten she is there, and is now focused on his phone, lamenting to himself.

The chronic tension within, Gondwana, is that the narrator was adopted as a publicity stunt for her father.

 

The acute tension within, Gondwana, is the fact that the narrator wants to divorce her father.

 

 

Analysis Part 1: Liv

The two craft elements that I pinpointed within the story, Gondwana, by Steve Almond, are conflict and point of view. The conflict of this story is Myristica’s struggle in her relationship with her father and this can bee seen very clearly whenever she states that she no longer wants to be in his custody. The point of view of this story is from the first person and through the eyes of Myristica, the narrator. Because the point of view is in the first person we are able to see not only how she views herself, but also how she views her father and the life he lives.

Starting with conflict, we first see the relationship first ignites whenever Myristica climbs over out of the bus she had ridden to her father’s house and tells him that she doesn’t think their relationship was working.

And then I was standing there in front of him saying (just like I’d rehearsed), I’m really sorry to interrupt your busy day and all, Dad, but its not working for me.

Here we can see that Myristica not only does not think that their relationship is falling apart, but she has thought that for enough of a while to be able to recite those lines for memory. In this story, Myristica was an orphan from Papua New Guinea who had been adopted almost as a publicity stunt for her father who is a television pundit. Because of her adoption and her doubt that her father truly loves her, Myristica begins to question whether or not she should remain in her father’s custody.

‘[Brought] her home to Laurel fucking Canyon and [tucked] her in each night-’

‘You didn’t tuck me in,’ I said.

‘I did too, Dad said.

‘You had staff do it.’

Hand-picked staff,’ Dad roared.

In the quote above, we see Myristica’s doubt of her father’s love and also the tension that arises whenever her father tries to prove his worth. Another instance wherever conflict appears is whenever Myristica claims that she wants to live with her friend Twig instead of living with her father.

‘Do you know what Yasser Arafat once told me?’ he said.

I told him that I didn’t care and that… I just wanted to move into my friend Twig’s basement and lead a normal life.

‘He said to me,’ Dad said, meaning Yasser Arafat, ‘that God gives us daughters to toughen our hearts.’

In this quote, we see that the conflict comes not only from the father’s stubborn personality but also from the carelessness/rudeness of Myristica. The father was intentionally ignoring his daughter’s confession of what she wanted to do with her life, and whenever she had finished he made a comment to try to fire her up and get a reaction out of her. Although the father seems reasonably annoying, Myristica was responding to her father in ways that many children should not: she not only said she no longer wanted to live with him, but with a friend, but whenever he began speaking to her, she seemed to ignore what he had to say as well. The conflict in this story seems very one-sided to both characters, but to the reader, both the father and Myristica are in the wrong.

The conflict throughout this story travels back and forth from the father being rude and Myristica getting upset because of his actions to Myristica’s internal insults and anger bubbling with only a fraction of it showing. Whenever Myristica first announces to her father that she wants to leave him, he questions one of his servants on whether or not she loves her father. This small act on the father’s part, comparing the servant’s love of her father to his daughter’s love of him, was especially petty and rude and starts the story out with the knowledge that this father-daughter relationship was going down hill.

‘Do you have a father?’ Dad said to Niblet. She nodded.

‘Do you love him?’ Dad said…

‘Of course I love him,’ she said. Dad glanced at me.

Within the story, there are many types of conflict, Myristica’s internal conflict of not fitting in, the father’s conflict of trying to keep his daughter home without ruining his campaign, and finally both of their conflicts of living with each other and rubbing against one another’s skins.

The second craft element that I will cover is point of view. The point of view is in the first person, through Myristica’s eyes, and because of this, we are able to see how she views the world and the people around her. We first see that the story is in the first person whenever Myristica addresses her self as I, letting us know that it will be from her point of view. One of the people that she thinks most about is her father, and as she tries to divorce him, a lot of thoughts flood her mind, giving us a taste of how she views him.

I wanted dad to have a long and happy life, while also wanting him to die instantly.

In the quote above, Myristica’s thoughts clearly show us that she wants her dad to be happy, but also wants him to die as well. Because this story is in the first person, we get all of our information of the father through the eyes of Myristica, providing a slightly distorted view of the father: we know that he can be annoying, but with Myristica’s thoughts, we see him as much worse than that, hence the way she thinks about her desire for her father’s death. Another way Myristica sees her father is with longing.

Where is that Dad, I wonder, who was bad but meant good? Who sang off-key but at least sang?

The father becomes very distant as his political life overwhelms his family life and even though Myristica becomes very annoyed and angry at her father, she longs for the family man he used to be. Through Myristica’s eyes, we get not only the negative sides to characters, but also the positive sides, making a realistic three dimensional setting, but with this, there also other points throughout the story whenever Myristica’s thoughts about her father are neither negative or positive, they just are.

[My father had] already stared into the camera with the  bulging grief-stricken eyes of  a saint and implored The Almighty to tell him what had gone wrong in America.

In this quote, the way she thinks of how her father stares into the camera is not a positive description, but it doesn’t seem to be negative either, giving Myristica some undecided thoughts about her father.

With first person, we are able to see how Myristica views herself as someone who does not fit in or belong in the world she lives in and also how she can have a bit of low self esteem.

I stood there, as I so often do, feeling misplaced.

In this quote, we are able to see the isolation that Myristica finds herself in wherever she is in her father’s wealthy white world and how that provides tension within her whenever she feels like she does not belong. The second instance mentioned above was whenever Myristica sees herself with low self esteem.

At night, [my dad] would steal into my room and leave lavish gifts. In the mourning, he would lurk behind the door and wait for me to express astonishment. It was like being courted by a vampire Santa Claus. Oh, God, [I thought], I’m probably making myself sound like a poor little rich girl.

In the last sentence, Myristica thinks poorly of herself for thinking it awkward for her father to behave in such a way, in a sense blaming herself and her emotions for the strange choices her father make. The point of view in this story proved to be a useful a tool in depicting an image of the world and the people in it through the eyes of Myristica.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would have the story differed if Steve Almond showed Myristica succeed in divorcing her father?
  2. Why was Twig a necessary character in this story?

 

 

Anaysis Part 2: Carson

Setting: the setting in this story is revealed through small details that are easy to miss. We know that theyre talking in Megs dads huge, luxury apartment-possible-penthouse but we dont know where until it is revealed in page 5 as being in los angeles. This is important because megs dad works as a part time dentist (i believe) and los angeles is a very cosmetic driven city. He also has a presidential campaign going and being from such a huge city could definitely benefit him. Not to mention how expensive it is to live in california especially los angeles. This adds to just how wealthy megs dad is. Another large setting in the story is Gondwana, Megs home country that she was “rescued” from by her Dad. From what we gather Gondwana is a very war stricken place which is the original reason Meg was taken away. Gondwana is described as being just how they describe in movies: hot, humid, no technology, simpler life, and remote. However, do not be mistaken to think the habiting people are less intelligent as the old woman they spoke to saw right through their shallow intentions and rightfully disregarded them. Another small setting is Twigs basement where Meg is planning to move to. This is important because it shows how adament meg is about getting away from her father, willing to leave her luxurious, comfortable life to live in a basement.

Plot: the plot in this story is pretty unusual where it doesnt really have a climax or resolution because we never actually see Meg leaving or the court. Instead, we get a lot of rising action and tension that slowly morphs into a conclusion of sorts. The small details and stories of Megs neglect and emotional abuse pile on top of eachother until the reader has no choice but to side with Meg on moving out. It almost sounds like a persuasive essay for the jury told in narrative format than a story. I feel as though if Meg shared this story with the court itd be a solid argument to have her legally cut ties with her adopted father.

Discussion Questions:

Do you think you that Meg was justified in leaving her dad or was she just being bratty?

Does Megs dad have any redeemable qualities or is he just a one noted awful person?

 

Analysis Part 3: Elise

Gondwana depends on flashbacks to tell its story- without them, you wouldn’t know why Meg wants to divorce her father. These flashbacks help us to know the dad’s true intentions- that, really, Meg was just a publicity stunt. After mentioning her father’s campaign, Meg says that

..it was going to be worse for me because a decade ago, as a mere regional cable curiosity, Dad had given an interview to a small radio station in Winston-Salem, on the occasion of Martin Luther Kings birthday. As some of you know; he’d said, I have a daughter. A little five-year-old. She is a pure-blooded Papua New Guinean and I love her for that. I m proud she’s racially pure, that she’ll grow up knowing who she is…

Meg provides the reader with a mere glimpse into the past, within which deeper meaning can be found. The fact that is talking this way about his five-year-old daughter on a radio show says a lot about his motives. He is using the child to make a political statement. And he contradicts himself in another flashback.

One night after dinner, I asked Dad whether he was going to take me back to Gondwana, which I understood to be the place of my birth.

To where, he said, God-what-ah?

Gondwana, I said.

You come from Los Angeles, he said quietly. Eat your sundae.

He said that she would grow up knowing who she was. And yet, here he is, telling her that she comes from Los Angeles. While she did grow up there, the father doesn’t even know where she came from- how was she supposed to?

The father’s actions aren’t commented on by Meg- she’s just stating what happened. It’s up to us, the readers, to characterize the father through what he does. It’s judging someone based on what somebody’s told you- we may not have the full story, but we like to think that we don’t need it. From these beginning flashbacks, we get the image of a bad man, an evil man, who cares more about publicity than his own child. And, even when he shows vulnerability, it’s due to a threat to his publicity,

The only reason I know the truth is because I caught Dad weeping in his Media Strategy Room a few years ago. A Web site devoted to humiliating the famous had obtained his mother’s court records; the story was about to break.

The inclusion of this indicates that he isn’t found weeping often- a fact that wouldn’t be hard to believe given his stardom. But the reason that he is crying adds to the image of a publicity-crazed person- he’s crying because a website found out that his parents killed each other, and that would absolutely ruin his career if somebody found out. Meg admits that he wasn’t always like this.

Dad himself used to sing to me, back in his boozing days. He’d come home right around the time I was getting up for school and stumble into my room and bellow classic rock staples, while Elba, the German… I guess you’d call her a governess… attempted to shoo him away. He looked awful, a dark wing of hair pasted to his brow, a ghostly halo of pancake makeup rimming his jowls…

She reminisces of the old dad, the one who “was bad but meant good” and who was happy to find her in the house. Here, now, is a hint at some sort of good in the father- at least in the past. Although he is selfish and terrible now, Meg has seen him in another light before. But that dad is gone, and that’s why she wants to divorce the one she has now.

Near the end of the story is the longest flashback, that of her trip to Papua New Guinea when she was thirteen.

I know why my father hired you, I said.

Moss smiled. I’m not sure what you mean.

That old woman was supposed to recognize me or hug me or whatever. I’m not dumb, you know.”

This is the point that Meg referenced in the beginning of the text, when she mentioned to Twig that her dad was going to take her to Papua New Guinea again. The first time was a publicity stunt- unsurprising, given the character of the father- that went wrong, and Meg is fully aware that he is going to try again if she doesn’t divorce him. The fact that he’d take her again despite the failure of the first trip emphasizes the lack of concern the father has for Meg’s feelings and well-being.

Discussion Questions:

Why do you think Almond included the action of the father firing “Niblet?” How does this contribute to the characterization of the father?

How might the story have been affected if the flashback of the trip to Papua New Guinea wasn’t included?

 

“Backpack” Write Up by Ty Gates

I – Summary –

In “Backpack” by Tony Earley, the chairman of the History Department at orange Academy, John, makes a series of suspicious purchases, packs them all up in a backpack, along with a hidden firearm, and makes ready to act on his plan. His wife, his old college sweetheart, Charlotte, is surprised when he wakes up early the next morning. They have a somewhat tense conversation, in which John lies about his plans for the day. Once she leaves for work, John embodies his new alter-ego, which he has named Jimmy Ray Gallup. Jimmy is the opposite of John. Jimmy was given nothing, he was not successful. John texts his wife and daughter, then drives off to the bus station.

He leaves his car, and his life, behind in the parking lot of the bus station, and orders a ticket to Indianapolis. After getting on the bus, Jimmy Ray Gallup sits next to a woman and her baby. The woman is Carmen (a bit younger than John’s daughter); her daughter, Adele. They ride together most of the way, and Jimmy / John shares some about himself. He worked as a ship’s mechanic (he didn’t), he’s always wanted to see the great lakes (maybe). Carmen shares some in return. She had travelled to see her boyfriend Brandon, and finds his second girlfriend, six months pregnant. When the bus stops and they wait for the next bus, John begins to imagine his previous life falling apart in his absence. The panic in his daughter when he is found missing, his wife calling the police. They get onto the next bus, a much nicer bus, and they try to sleep through the night. John stays awake, as is usual for him, and remembers the first time he talked with his wife. They speak a bit more and become a bit closer over the course of the second bus ride.

At Carmen’s stop, John reconsiders his plan. He feels he has gone too far to go back, but he doesn’t want to continue. Carmen invites him to come home with her, and he accepts. There he meets Carmen’s sister C.J., who takes an immediate disliking to him. They return to Carmen’s trailer, and get ready for the night. She can’t sleep, and asks Jimmy if he wants to watch porn with her. He refuses, telling her to please go to sleep, and she backs off. The next day, C.J. interrogates Jimmy about his intentions with her sister, and John assures her that he has done nothing to her and has no intention to. Carmen goes through his stuff during the night, finds out who he is, DM’s his wife, just does a total doozy on his plan. His plan, which he confesses to Carmen, to take a blow up raft on Lake Superior, tie himself to a cinder block, puncture the raft, and shoot himself. He gives up on his plan and awaits his wife’s arrival at Carmen’s trailer. During the wait, he thinks about a concert they went to together, and Charlotte appears to recollect her husband.

 

Chronic Tension – John’s relationship with his wife

Acute Tension – John’s attempt on his own life

 

II – What is compelling –

What makes this story interesting is the withholding of information.

The fact that John intends to kill himself is not given at the beginning of the story. All of the details about his preparations and his intentions are given impartially, in a distant voice. It is only in the quiet moments that the narration comes closer into the third limited, and we’re given insight into John’s thoughts. Leaving his intentions unspecified, and neglecting to give reason to his actions allows for speculation on where and why he is going. He is probably not running from anything, though maybe he is. The items he has, especially the gun, give some tension to his journey. Why does he feel he needs the gun? What is he planning to do with the rest of the objects? The author leaves all of the questions somewhat open, adding the tension to keep people reading the story.

In addition, the downtime spent in John’s head gives us a peek of his state of mind. He is quite calm. A bit more contemplative than some, perhaps, but calm nonetheless. We know how he is operating inside, and that information is gained purely through his thought. Since we don’t know that these are John’s last couple days, and that John wants to live them as Jimmy Ray Gallup, and that John doesn’t want anyone to ever find his body, we can get a sense of how John is feeling without the preconceptions we bring to a suicide. If the story began by divulging the fact that John wants to shoot himself, all the moments we get inside his head become melodramatic. It becomes a tragedy. If this story became a melodramatic tragedy, it would be a tragic turn of events.

 

III – What to steal –

There were a couple moments in this story where it was unclear whether John was speaking as himself or through Jimmy Ray Gallup. This was very interesting. Not knowing who the narrator was speaking as added a compelling level of ambiguity to the story. Combined with the third limited point of view, unreliable information about the narrator can make for some interesting moments of speculation.

 

– Writing exercise –

Give your character an objective without stating it. You may allude to it, but only with light strokes. Use the time before the character comes to their objective to fill out the character. Get to know him or her. Show how the character is feeling on their way to complete this task. Once the character is well and thoroughly developed, reveal the objective.

– Or –

Write a character, then create an alternate character that they speak through. Have them interact with someone as their alternate self, try to recreate the ambiguity of information. Is the information that your character sharing about themself true or is it part of their alias?

 

IV – Questions –

Why do you think John was driven to this suicide?

Has John truly come down from the edge at the end of the story?

Has he returned to his wife?

“The Devil Comes to Orekhovo” Write Up by Emma H, Henry, and Sydney

Summary Part 1: Emma H

A man in the army during World War 2 named Leksi counts the amount of wild dogs he sees while he marches with his troop of two other soldiers, Nikolai and Surkhov, who are older then him and have been in the army longer. As Leksi holds his rifle and ponders its weight, he thinks about in his hometown he and his school friends had wanted desperately to be a solider because all the girls adored them, and that no able man above the age of 18 wasn’t enlisted. Leksi’s mind goes back to his current surroundings, snow, snow, and more snow, but he can’t complain about the cold because he is the youngest. But  Nikolai and Surkhov complain and are restlessly loud which makes Leksi nervous as he has heard horror stories, but still he says nothing. Surkhov wants someone named Khlebnikov to be put in charge. Leksi then describes  Nikolai and Surkhov. Nikolai says that they will never bring  Khlebnikov there because he is a tank and that this is a game because Nikolai and Surkhov don’t take anything seriously. Leksi recounts last week when they had found a dead dog and Surkhov had pretended is was a dummy and played with it, which Nikolai thought was funny but Leksi unnerving. Leksi fall sbehind the two men and they chastize him for not paying attention. They stop close to the mansion they want to enter and sit smoking a cigarette try to decide weather or not it is occupied. At night, Leksi keeps watch and can hear te wild dogs howling and he thinks back on his life, hoping that he will make it through tomorrow. At three A.M. the trio climbs down the hill to the house, darkening their faces and clothing. When they get to the house, it is unkempt and looks abandonded. The door is unlocked and it’s empty. Still the men search the whole house, but when Leski opens the fridge, he gets slapped by Surkhov because the light could have given them away. When the search was complete, they inform their base and sit in the library. Leksi is embrassed becasue he thinks that a slap is a femmine thing.

Summary Part 2: Henry

Summary Part 3: Sydney

Leksi hands the old woman a shovel and begin on their way. She tries to reason with him as they walk, saying that his fellow soldiers were just trying to test him, and they couldn’t care less whether she lived or died. Leksi realizes that she’s probably right, but still doesn’t want to let her go. She says that her grandchildren won’t know where her grave would be and Leksi agrees to put up a marker even though he plans not to. She tells him to put her hometown and her name, Tamara Shashani, on the grave. She starts telling him a story called “When The Devil Comes to Orekhovo”. In the story, the Devil wanted to marry the most beautiful woman alive. So he starts to go to Orekhovo to meet a girl named Aminah. On his way, he asks a boy for directions before killing him and taking out his eyes. Leksi recalls hearing a similar version of this story before. Continuing the story, the devil asks to enter a fat woman’s house, who turns out to be Aminah’s mother. After he offers her gold in exchange for her daughter’s hand in marriage, he kills her and takes her eyes as well.  The devil meets Aminah at a frozen lake and asks to skate with her. She agrees, but after a while, he asks her to be the queen of his kingdom, giving her a necklace of blue diamonds, which were actually the eyes he took. Instead of taking up his offer, Aminah skates away as fast as she can causing the devil to fall through the ice while chasing her. After the story ends, Leksi panics as he realizes he got lost. Suddenly feeling really warm, he takes off his parka and relaxes. The old woman slips away without Leksi realizing, and as he’s tracking her footsteps, he sees Nikolai shortly before hearing a gunshot close by.

Tensions?

Analysis Part 1: Emma

My first element was significant detail.

The first significant detail that we get is the fact that the dogs have gone feral. This detail is significant because we will see these feral dogs later on in the story, multiple times. They find a dead dog who had been used as target practice, and Surkhov and Nikolai had played with the corpse, but Leski had a bad feeling because he was deeply superstitious.

They came across a skinny dead dog, and Surkhov dragged it by its front paws into the center of the road…Surkhov, one hand on the back of its neck, lifted the dog’s frozen corpse onto its hind legs and used it as a ventriloquist’s dummy to sing, in falsetto, the old Zhana Matveyeva song.

Later, when Leski is keeping watch the night before they storm the house he hears the dogs howling to each other and becomes unerved.

Every few minutes a dog would howl and then his brothers would answer, until the hills echoed with lonely dogs calling for each other.

Even later, towards the end of the story, when the old woman, Tamara Shashani, is telling the story of The Devil Comes To Orekhovo to Leski, telling him of the misdirection that Aminah had used in order to get away from the Devil who prized her and had killed to find her, entrancing him in the story that he had heard as a child, she too leads him away from where it is that they are meant to be going and leading him to a place that he doesn’t know how to go back to the house from and into a pack of three wild dogs feasting on a deer carcass.

Leksi heard growls and turned to see where they came from. In the shadow of a great boulder twenty meters away three dogs feasted on a deer’s still-steaming intestines. Each dog seemed to sense Leksi’s gaze at the same time; they lifted their heads and stared at him until he averted his eyes.

And so he finds himself in a similar position as in the beginning, lost in thought surrounded by the feral dogs, who are eyeing him, but not attacking, despite what seems to be a violent nature.

Another significant detail is Leski’s equipment. These details are significant because they help Nikolai and Surkhov come to the conclusion that Leski is weak and inexperienced. We first see him struggle with his rifle. He has to constantly shift it because it slips off his shoulder, but is too heavy to carry in his hands. Later, when he rushes to speak with Nikolai he nearly trips because of the weight of the rifle unbalancing him and Nikolai notices this.

His rifle strap kept slipping off his shoulder so he ended up holding the gun in his gloved  hands. He still wasn’t used to the rifle. It never seemed heavy when he picked it up in the morning, but by noon, when he was sweating through his undershirt despite the cold, his arms ached from the burden.

He rushed forward, nearly tripping. Carrying the rifle disrupted his balance.

Leski doesn’t wear his helmet because when he does Nikolai and Surkhov throw pebbles at him, because apparently they are considered “unmanly”.

Leksi, whose head was still shaved to regulation specifications, felt vulnerable without his helmet, which he had left behind after Surkhov and Nikolai kept throwing pebbles at it. None of the older. soldiers wore helmets. Helmets were considered unmanly, like seat belts, fit only for U.N. observers and French journalists.

When they enter the house later and Leski opens the fridge, he is slapped by Surkhov, which Leski finds insulting because he thinks that Surkhov doesn’t think he is worthy of a punch.

Later when the men are drunk off of the stolen vodka from the kitchen, the men have a conversation where Surkhov and Nikolai ask him how many women he has been with and when he tells them the number of girls he has kissed, they assume he is lying because they consider him unmasculine.

“But you’ve been with women?”

Leksi burped and nodded. “Here and there.”

“Virgin,” said Surkhov, carving his name into the mahogany tabletop with his knife… “I’ve been with three.”

Nikolai raised his eyebrows as if the number impressed him. “You must be a legend in your hometown.”

“And I’ve kissed eleven.”

Surkhov plunged his knife into the table and shouted,

“That’s a lie!” Then he giggled and drank more vodka.

“Eleven,” repeated Leksi.

When he learns that he must kill her, he wishes to that the whole is an elaborate joke or that she will refuse to cooperate and one of the others must do it, because he is still that young and unwilling, which as the old woman points out later in the woods, is why they have chosen him for the task. They want to see if he is worthy, strong enough. If he will pass the test that they have set for him.

She hadn’t stopped walking, though, and she continued talking. “It’s a test for you. They want to see how strong you are.”

The old woman asks about how will her grandchildren find her when she is dead and Leski replies that he will pt up a marker but he has no intention of doing that, he had just run out of things to say to this woman. Leski describes his fury as having already disappeared, which is bad because he needs to find a way to dehumanize this woman so that he can kill her without remorse. He needs a reason and she isn’t giving him one.

While she tells him the story, he doesn’t pay attention to his surroundings and becomes lost at the bottom of the hill. The old woman tricked him, as Aminah tricked the Devil. He lets her go, but it’s all for nothing. Surkhov kills her anyway and without apparent guilt or moral restraint.

When he finally raised his head the old woman was gone, as he knew she would be…A moment later a single gunshot echoed across the valley floor…He turned to find Surkhov marching toward them, singing “Here Comes the Sun,” twirling a silver chain with a black cameo on its end.

My second element was scene vs summary.

I chose a few different things for summary but the ones that chose help to infer the kind of person that each character is (physically, mentally, emotionally). According to Janet Burroway’s “Summary and Scene”, part of a summary’s purpose is to “fill in a character’s background”, and I believe these words do just that for each of the main characters in the story. Like with the old woman. We get two different descriptions of her, one off her younger years, and the other as she is now.

A raven-haired woman stared at the camera. She looked faintly bored yet willing to play along, the same expression Leksi saw on all the beautiful young wives in his hometown. Her dark eyebrows plunged toward each other but didn’t meet.

An old woman sat on a bare mattress. She did not look up at them. Her thinning gray hair was tied back in a bun and her spotted hands trembled on her knees. She wore a long black dress. A black cameo on a slender silver chain hung from her neck.

From this brief description of her looks you can see how her body has deteriorated with time, how she is no longer the same beautiful, bored woman in that photograph, but her will remains the same, willing to play along with the game of whoever is taking the picture and the three Russian soldiers in her house.

But it doesn’t just provide good background information about the character, it also helps to tie together different places in time, like how in beginning Leksi is with Surkhov and Nikolai, in the snow, surrounded by dogs. The same goes for the ending, but a huge amount of character development has occurred.

The dogs had gone feral. They roamed the countryside their claws grown long, their fur thick and untangled with thistles. When the soldiers began Leksi counted each dog he spotted, a game pass. He quit after forty.

…Only the dogs would know where to find him…. He sat in the snow and listened to the countryside around him.

Onto scene. Burroway describes scene to be significant moments, and they “…deal(s) with a relatively short period of time at length.”

I thought that this particular scene fit the criteria well. It contained dialogue, it was a very significant moment in the story and is relatively short containing less than two hundred words.

They were halfway up the stairs when Nikolai placed his two wine bottles on the step above him, drew his pistol from his waist holster, and chambered a bullet. Leksi did not have a pistol. His rifle was still in the library. He held a bottle in one hand and the toy truck in the other. He looked at Nikolai, not sure what was happening.

“Leksi,” whispered Nikolai. “How do they play pool with the table jammed against the wall ?”

Leksi shook his head. He had no idea what the older man was talking about.

“Get Surkhov. Get your rifles and come down here.”

By the time Leksi had retrieved Surkhov from the dining room, their rifles from the library, and returned to the cellar staircase, Nikolai was gone. Then they heard him calling for them. “Come on, come on, it’s over.’

They found him standing above an opened trapdoor, his pistol reholstered. He had shoved the billiards table aside to get to the trapdoor, a feat of strength that Leksi did not even register until a few minutes later. The three soldiers stared down into the tiny subcellar.

As you can see this is the moment when the men find the old woman in the house and it is a very significant plot point in the story. It’s also right before you the reader knows what exactly is happening down in this subceller. Nikolai knows,as he has already seen her and at the very end so do Surkhov and Leski, but until the very next sentence, the reader/audience has no idea. It’s not fast paced at all either. We are eased into this realization through the quiet turn of events that occurs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the author choose not to state Tamaras death explicitly?
  2. Why does the author choose to start the story with the feral dogs line?  

 

 

Analysis Part 2: Henry

The Devil Comes to Orekhovo is an interesting look into the aspects of war. These three soldiers are just boys, they’re still young and impressionable. They were born to a society that glorifies the act of war and of becoming a soldier, and they unwittingly enlisted into the Russian army, not having a clue as to the gravity of what they were doing.

Leksi, along with all of his school friends, had eagerly anticipated enlistment.

The three of them are still trying to find their place in society, trying to sort out who they are as people. The story almost revolves around a Hero’s Journey, in a way. Leksi is a young boy who enlists in order to become a man. He meets these two older soldiers, who sort of test him and show him the ropes, and give him a strange mixture of tough love and genuine anger. The men show Leksi what it’s like being a soldier for the Russian army, and what he is to expect. But the defining aspect of this story that makes it so on par with the Hero’s Journey is the old woman.

Nikolai sighed. ‘It is not a pleasant thing, but she is old. Her life from now on would be very bad. Give her back to Allah.’

Nikolai shows an abrupt personality change when he is dealing with the old woman, going from harsh and cruel to the young Leksi to warm and agreeable. He does what she says without many complaint, and the reason is revealed to be that Nikolai wants her to be killed. He orders Leksi to do it, something that Leksi is reasonably unhappy with. Leksi does it anyways, and he takes the woman out to the woods. When walking through, the woman gives him a tale about the devil reminiscent of the Greek myth of Persephone. Leksi never does kill the woman, instead, he completes his Hero’s Journey by digging her grave.

Nikolai smiled and held out the shovel. ‘Come here, Aleksandr. You have work to do.’

The immediate answer for the work that Leksi must do is that he must dig the grave of the old woman, but it should also be taken into account that they were planning on having the old woman dig her own grave. It isn’t impossible that Surkhov and Nikolai could have had Leksi dig two graves, one for the old woman, and one for himself. The ending does leave a lot to interpretation, which is what I would like to learn for my own stories.

This story left the ending up to the reader, and I want to include that sort of ambiguity and the unknown factor when writing. Writing something intentionally vague in order to let the reader interpret is one of the best ways to write horror, and this story included some aspects of the horror genre in it, from the Devil story and from the general atmosphere of the cold blanket snow of Chechnya.

Religion is a large factor in many stories, and Orekhovo is no exception. These soldiers are likely atheist, from the way they speak about Moscow and common society. They mention Allah, considering Chechnya has a large Muslim population. And of course, there is also the story of the Devil. Religion is just another aspect of Russian society that conforms these young men into enlisting in the army. Russian society as a whole plays a major part in this story. I did “References to Religion” last presentation too, and I’m starting to think my choices of story subconsciously prefer religious undertones.

Discussion Questions

-What does the tale of The Devil Comes to Orekhovo have to do with the rest of the story?

-Do you think Leksi was killed at the end of the story for betraying his fellow soldiers?

 

 

Analysis Part 3: Sydney

Characterization

The story’s main character, Leksi, is an eighteen year old russian soldier who wants to prove himself the older men that accompany him.

“Of the three soldiers, Leksi, at eighteen, was the youngest.”

Right off the bat, our protagonist is an underdog. He’s less experienced than his comrades and struggles to get used to hiking long distances in the freezing temperatures and much to his annoyance, his heavy rifle keeps slipping off his shoulder, highlighting his inexperience once again.

He was so cold his teeth were cold. If he breathed through his mouth his throat hurt; if he breathed through his nose his head hurt. But he was younger, and he was a soldier, so he never complained. Surkhov and Nikolai, on the other hand, never stopped complaining.

Leksi is younger and feels as if he must prove himself to his comrades. He fears that complaining would cause his fellow soldiers to lose respect for him, despite the fact that they’re the ones actually complaining.

Leksi couldn’t understand why Surkhov and Nikolai were so recklessly loud, but they had been soldiers for years. Both had seen extensive combat. Leksi didn’t question them.

By this point, the readers can all tell that Leksi looks up to these guys and follows them without question. Benioff was smart to characterize Leksi like this early on in the story, so it is no surprise when he agrees to kill an innocent old woman without a second thought.

Only after they began marching again, after Surkhov and Nikolai began singing Beatles songs replacing the original lyrics with obscene variations, did Leksi wonder who was watching his back.

When Nikolai unfairly scolds him for ‘not watching his back’, Leksi acts guilty and submissive despite the fact that nobody was watching his own back. He’s a complete doormat to these two men. This inability to think for himself also gives him room to grow and change as a character, and I personally was very anxious to see him finally stand up for himself.

Leksi’s face was still flushed from embarrassment. He knew that he deserved the slap, that he had acted stupidly, but he was furious anyway. He imagined that Surkhov slapped his girlfriends that way if he caught them stealing money, and it burned Leksi to be treated with such disrespect, as if he were unworthy of a punch.

Leksi embarrassed himself in front of Surkhov and it eats him up. He feels as if he’s being treated as a child and obviously desires Surkhov and Nikolai to treat him as an equal. Being slapped for misbehaving makes him utterly furious. However,

Leksi was unable to hold grudges. He extended his hand and said, “I’m sorry.”

He directly states that he doesn’t hold grudges, making him seem even more like a doormat.

Later in the story, as the old woman is telling him the story, he fails to see the parallels between the fairytale and his current predicament. Benioff establishes a connection between these two characters before they even meet, when Leksi was questioning why strangers would want to kill him.

In a few hours he might be fighting for a house he had never seen before tonight, against men he had never met. He hadn’t insulted anyone or fucked anyone’s girlfriend, he hadn’t stolen any money or crashed into anyone’s car, and yet these men, if they were here, would try to kill him. It seemed very bizarre to Leksi. Strangers wanted to kill him. They didn’t even know him, but they wanted to kill him.

His internal monologue makes his lack of empathy to the old woman very ironic; neither she nor he can understand why someone would want them dead even if they didn’t do anything wrong. By this point, we can pretty much tell that Leksi isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. He even says it himself;

‘They don’t care if I live or die, you must know this. Why should they? Look at me, what can I do? They are testing you. Can’t you see this? You are smart, you must see.’

‘No,’ said Leksi. ‘I’m not smart.’

Even when the old woman clearly tells him that his comrades are testing him, he still refuses to acknowledge it because of his blind trust in the more experienced soldiers. In the end, its this lack of self awareness that cause the old woman to escape his clutches.

Setting

Setting played an important role in this story, providing external conflicts for our protagonist. In the beginning of the story, the freezing temperatures of Russia make Leksi very uncomfortable and cause him to question what he’s fighting for in the first place.

Instead he had this: snow, snow, more snow, snow. It all looked the same to Leksi, and it was endless. He never paid attention to where they were going; he just followed the older soldiers. If he were ever to look up and find them gone, Leksi would be lost in the wilderness, without any hope of finding his way out. He could not understand why anyone would want to live here, let alone fight for the place.

One strength I found in the text was Benioff’s ability to help the readers infer when and where the story was taking place by using subtle clues and references rather than saying outright that they are in Russia during the 1960’s or 70’s.

…after Surkhov and Nikolai began singing Beatles songs replacing the original lyrics with obscene variations..

So, by referencing things like the Beatles, readers can use their prior knowledge to guess when this story is happening.

Setting also helped give us more information on the woman who lived in the house Leksi and company decided to take over.

A heavy black dresser· with brass handles stood against one wall. On top of the dresser were pill bottles, a brush tangled with long gray hairs, a china bowl filled with coins, a cutglass vial of perfume, a jar of pungent face cream, and several silver-framed photographs. One of the photographs caught Leksi’s eye, an old black-and-white, and he picked it up. A raven-haired woman stared at the camera. She looked faintly bored yet willing to play along, the same expression Leksi saw on all the beautiful young wives in his hometown. Her dark eyebrows plunged toward each other but didn’t meet.

Leksi had the eerie sense, examining the photograph, that the woman knew she would be seen this way. As if she expected that a day would come, years and years after the shutter clicked, when a stranger with a rifle strapped to his shoulder would point his flashlight at her face and wonder what her name was. 

Leksi thinks back to this photograph quite often, giving him a connection to the old woman and giving her entire character a feeling of history.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did the author set this story in Russia during this time period?

  2. Why did the author have Leksi think of himself as unintelligent?