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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 354 Response

“City Man, Mountain Man”

by Bob Brill

to Challenge 354...

Neither of the questions you ask were in my mind when I wrote the story. I started with the concept of writing a story with a circular narrative arc. Then I invented a character who traverses the arc without knowing his path, a protagonist with two personalities, each walled off from the other.

The transition is made through the use of fantasy, or is the fantasy only in the character’s mind? The city and the mountains are not the shapers of his experience, but reflections of his twin personalities.

It would not have been difficult to have his happy life take place in the city and his unhappy life in the mountains. Or to have the story take place in two different cities.

As for the first question, Tom is just as happy as he thinks he is in his mountain home and just as unhappy as he thinks he is in New York. Perhaps it would be more accurate to use the word “feels” instead of “thinks.”

Copyright © 2009 by Bob Brill

Quite so, Bob: the Challenges are readers’ questions, mostly mine. And they’re always about the work; I never try to guess what an author had in mind.

The basic structure is evident: Tom is caught in a loop, shuttling back and forth between city and mountains, between feelings of unhappiness and happiness. And as you say, the Challenge does not ask about cause and effect; rather, the settings reflect Tom’s opposing states of mind.

In fact, the settings are essentially interior: we readers are locked inside Tom’s head, and we never know where he is in his reality. In the city? In the mountains? In an insane asylum?

The story takes the form of an urban-pastoral fairy tale, what one might call “magic realism.” Is it a parable about the emotional extremes suffered by a man subject to bipolar disorder? That’s a possible interpretation, although by no means the only one.

It’s quite true, as you say, that the settings could be different and yet Tom’s oscillation between extremes would remain the same. However, the question about the story’s relationship to American cultural iconography still stands. Would the story be read in quite the same way if it were not supported by America’s edenic pastoral myth?


Copyright © 2009 by Bob Brill

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