Why It Works: George II by David Malone

I found “George II” by David Malone over at Carve Magazine.  If you’re not familiar with Carve but you love short stories, I advise you to head on over immediately.  The stories they showcase online are consistently engaging and its contributors are almost masters of the craft.  I always learn something when I read Carve.

“George II” is a short story told in the second person, concerning the main character’s unexpected return and his wife’s less than enthusiastic response.

Second-person narration is not everyone’s cup of tea.  It is notoriously difficult to pull off and I know some editors shy away from it on principle.  But in “George II” the second-person pov is deliberately chosen. It almost reads as an internal monologue, first-person borrowing second-person.  And instead of being descriptive, it is instructional.  “Arrive early”, instead of “You arrive early” goes the narration.  What does this do?  It limits the repetition of the word you, for one thing.  But more importantly, it provokes a question in the reader.  Why does this character need to tell himself what to do?  George seems to be prompting himself to move, to speak, to act normally. And at the same time, he is savouring every action, even if it becomes, as his actions most certainly do as the story progresses, painful.  The reasons why he would savour them become clear later on.

But since you’ve already read the story (at least, I really hope you have), I won’t be spoiling anything when I talk about the mystery at the centre of George’s return.  Is he back from having an affair?  A long business trip?  No.  He’s actually returned from the dead.  Death turns out to be not what any of the major religions would have us believe.

This is not a long story, just under 1700 words.  But within that constraint, Malone manages to create a world in which resurrection becomes believable.  He uses a light touch in drawing out some serious themes, the usual biggies of love, death, fear of abandonment, fear of death.  But there is humour, too.

Search the tablecloth for the right sentence. Strike a chord between familiarity and reverence: the lovechild of “Hey Baby!” and “Dearest One.” Glance up as she sits. Break the ice and say:

“Your mother’s going to love hell.”

This is a gem of a story and an excellent lesson in how to use second-person narration.  The biggest take-away: choose the pov with purpose, make it deliberate.  Use it only when it is the best way for the story to be told.

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