Issue # 171: Still Life

In our new issue, Jason Ockert’s wild and wonderful “Still Life,” a teenager takes an art project to the extreme. Our talented contributing editor Will Allison discovered this lively tale, so I’m turning introductions, once more, into his capable hands. I leave with a note to our dear readers: No Animals Were Harmed In the Making of This Story.—HT

“Whose story is it?” A writer’s answer to this question almost always determines who his or her viewpoint character is—and in short stories, there’s usually only one viewpoint character.

But the story in our current issue, Jason Ockert’s wonderfully strange “Still Life,” is told from the viewpoints of two characters: Everett Zurn, a marginalized high-school student, and Mr. Ralph, his heartbroken art teacher.

As I read the story for the first time, its viewpoint shifting between Mr. Ralph and Everett, the writer in me couldn’t help wondering: which character would ultimately prove to be the focus of the story? I liked them both and couldn’t decide whose story I hoped it would be.

Happily, I didn’t have to choose. Through the artful intermingling of the two viewpoints in the story’s final scene, Ockert succeeds in making “Still Life” Everett’s story and Mr. Ralph’s story. In the process, he not only offers a refreshing exception to the rule that stories have only one protagonist, but he also provides a well-crafted example of what Mark Schorer might have had in mind when he observed that form is not different from meaning and is itself a gesture toward the meaning of fiction.

To read more about how Ockert conceived “Still Life” (and to learn about his thwarted desire to be a misanthrope) be sure to check out our interview with the author.

2 thoughts on “Issue # 171: Still Life

  1. Mr. Ockert uses the following, page 2, line 3:
    “his mother cashiered at the Handi-Mart.”
    To cashier (v.t.) is to dismiss or fire an employee.
    So the initial impulse is to read, sadly, that
    his mother was fired at her job. There is no
    v.i. form for ‘to cashier,’ is there?
    This seems to go along with ‘to medal’ and
    ‘to impact’ in current usage.
    Maybe only the hopelessly retro would have
    a problem with any of these forms.

  2. Any mother or father, any teacher or parent chaperon who has lost track of a charge for even an instant knows the dreaded feeling. Everyone feels like a failure at that moment. A failure in a total panic. That was my emotional point of entry to the total story which, interestingly, did not come until the very end. The teacher’s relief coming at the same time as his willingness to totally change his point of view on a work of art (and a grade) was authentic. It hit home.

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