LNH: Onion Lad #9

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 15 21:51:07 PDT 2006

Saxon Brenton wrote:
> On Thursday 15 June 2006 Tom Russell <milos_parker at yahoo.com>
> commented on Onion Lad #9:
> [...]
> For my part I was wondering how I radically different with my original
> perception of Teriyaki Chick's behaviour was from what she seemed to
> be once I started reading a story narrated by her.  In the past I'd gotten
> the impression that she was a competent and somewhat ruthless figure
> who was using Onion Lad to advance her agenda in her fight against
> crime, and while this certainly remained true I had not anticipated that
> she would be actively repulsed by Onion Lad, nor that she would be
> leading him on out of simple malice (as when he kissed him and giggled
> when fainted).
> That said, I noted a number of instances of compare'n'contrast between
> what's happening and what she says is happening which looked (and
> still look to me, despite some evidence to the contrary) of being for
> humorous effect.  The case where she runs out of her room in a panic

This is very true, and Jesse said something much to that effect in
private email.  I did notice that it was there, it was just a little
too subtle for my tastes, and I thought, from a rhetorical standpoint,
that the first-person ran counter to that effect.

I know that great writing is supposed to be subtle and multivariate,
but at the same time, I yearn for some didactic clarity.  I'd rather be
enjoying the story, and experiencing it on a visceral level, then
digging deep, deep, deep down to plumb out meanings the author hasn't
bothered to highlight.  I know that puts me in the minority of most
readers, and marks me as a bit of a philistine.  But I'd rather things
be enjoyable and accessible on a more obvious level, so that I can
enjoy the story the second time around for the little subtle touches.

Or, putting it another way: I'd rather watch FIGHT CLUB and be told by
the third act that Tyler Durden and the narrator are the same person,
and then, on a second or third viewing, pick up on the hints and cute
little flash-frames.

I think we can all agree that works of art that operate on more than
one level are more complex.  But I think that only really works if one
of the levels is more obvious than the other, and that that obvious
level is the more important of the two.  To clarify: ONION LAD # 9 is
*about*, on some level, the disconnect between Teryaki Chick's outward
personality and her actual actions.  It's also about being chased by
Dr. I-Can't-Believe.

Now, obviously it makes more sense to foreground the Dr.
I-Can't-Believe chase and to have the character work with Teryaki
happen in a slightly more subtle way.  This is a sound choice on
Willey's part and shows good story sense.  Ideally, a reader can enjoy
the chase for its action, its pacing, its suspense and its wit on the
first reading, picking up on a subtle emotional level the Teryaki Chick
thread.  But I would also argue that such a story would be ideally
suited for third person: a chase scene, to my mind, works better if one
emphasizes the physical reality of it, as opposed to more internal or
emotional states.  And, as I stated before, the disconnect between
Tery's persona and her true self might be both more readily apparent
and more subtle if done in third person.

Don't get me wrong: Willey made a choice here, and he followed through
with it, and did so intelligently.  He stays true to Tery's voice and
that's admirable; she _wouldn't_ give the audience access to her deeper
layers, and she wouldn't acknowledge contradictions within herself.
But that also makes it more difficult for the readers to observe them.

In a comic book, with first person (same goes with film, too), you have
the advantage of pairing words with contradictory imagery.  You have
her think one thing, but her face says another.  This doesn't work as
well in prose (neither does cross-cutting: just check out the second
chapter of BRAVE NEW WORLD) as it does in a visual medium: if one was
to switch from her POV to a third-person narrator who observes the
discrepency, it would become quickly monotonous, and make it far more
obvious than even Tom "Didactic Superhero Fiction" Russell would like
it to be.

It shows good story sense that Willey doesn't jerry-rig contradictions
into her narration.  He's obviously thought out his choice.  All I'm
saying is that there are advantages to one of the other choices
available to him, and I think these advantages would be particularly
helpful in his stated aims.


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