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.