Challenge 425 Response
with Arnold Hollander
Arnold Hollander’s “I’m Alive” appears to transgress Bewildering Stories’ restriction on stories in which the narrator dies, but an exception seems warranted in this case.
- What would happen to the poem if the action were described from an objective, third-person viewpoint?
- What does the title suggest as a possible explanation for the narrator’s seeing what he could not normally be expected to see?
- What “larger story” might be implied by the action?
[Arnold H.] (a.) If the narration was in third person the knowledge that the victim was still alive would not be known.
(b.) The title suggests the narrator has a consciousness, an awareness, but for any number of reasons is frozen inside the body and obvious indicators of life were not detected.
(c.) The “larger story” offers several possibilities, a body was discovered in a marshy area, someone had gone missing and following a search had been discovered.
[Don W.] Thanks for the feedback, Arnie; it’s always interesting to see how authors read their own works. The difference between their reading and a “real” reader’s reading can be instructive.
For one thing, I’m not really sure the narrator is alive, at least in the conventional sense.
The overheard conversation “Take good shots” is apparently addressed to a photographer. But it would hardly be necessary — in fact, it seems a little insulting — to tell a crime scene photographer to do his work well. On the other hand, if the narrator were a dangerous escapee, “Take good shots” might mean “Shoot to kill.”
Apparently the narrator is conscious in some way. If he’s only been photographed, why do the police not wait for the coroner to pronounce him dead or alive? There is the remote but real possibility that the narrator is suffering from “locked in” syndrome, where he resembles a person in a vegetative state but is actually conscious.
On the other hand, if he’s literally been shot and is riddled with bullet holes, then a body bag might be justified and the police might skip a step. In that case, I’d be willing to grant the narrator an out of body — or, as I like to put it, an “out of bag” — experience.
As you say, what the narrator is doing in the marsh is anybody’s guess, but it’s really irrelevant. And likewise if the narrator is a ghost. The whole point is a depiction of an ultimate “failure to communicate.”
Copyright © 2011 by Arnold Hollander
and Bewildering Stories