About “Jonathan” et al.
with Donald Schneider and Don Webb
[Donald Schneider] Firstly, and most importantly, how is Jerry? I hope he is doing as well as can be expected. Please tell him I was asking about him.
[Don Webb] I would very much like to talk with Jerry, but from personal experience I’m sensitive to cases where a person may not feel well enough to write or converse. But I will give him a call.
[D. S.] I read “Jonathan” and your introductory piece to Elana Gomel, its talented author. In your introduction, you mention that she treats autism in her short story far differently than I treat Tourette’s Syndrome in mine. That’s certainly true. My story just has a science fiction façade to make the plot tenable and nothing more.
Aside from the literary device itself, there is nothing else fantastical and the story unfolds on a strictly realistic plane. Indeed, if it can be categorized as science fiction at all, then it’s the softest of such. Therefore, Tourette’s Syndrome is portrayed factually.
[D. W.] I’m very pleased that your “Pride’s Prison” has attracted a lot of attention from an interested audience. It speaks honestly about how a real affliction affects real people. That is something readers respond to, even if they aren’t directly affected themselves.
The premise of your story allows of two possible approaches. In the one you took, a character goes back in time, Twilight Zone style, to give himself the advice he needed when he was young. Otherwise you could have given the boy a mentor who is his contemporary. But that would have required introducing a new character, and it would have negated a major theme of the story, namely the boy’s isolation and loneliness. I think you made the better choice.
[D. S.] “Jonathan,” on the other hand, is a legitimate science fiction piece, thus its presentation of autism as an apparent evolutionary process, at least in some instances. The piece is deep and after reading it twice, I’m still somewhat uncertain as to the author’s exact intent. I weighed the possibility that it isn’t a science fiction story at all, but rather a psychological thriller along the lines of “Diary of a Madman” or Bill Bowler’s “Zero Ping” (which I reviewed).
If it wasn’t for the fact that the author states that the murders and suicide came to light two weeks after the protagonist last saw her friends and the boy, I might have interpreted it as story of a character with a traumatic past gone over the brink of mental sanity. Perhaps my interpretation is off, but I noticed several signs within the narrator’s account that might be allusions to her having imagined parts of it.
However, if she had killed the family as a result of her insane fantasies, then it is doubtful that it would have taken anywhere near a fortnight for the police to have discovered the crimes and come to the public’s notice. After all, the husband had a steady job.
[D. W] You’re right that the two-week delay in discovering the murder-suicide is highly unlikely. Indeed, is the delay even necessary? If it is, we need an explanation.
In any story, readers assume that all characters are normal and truthful unless and until we’re told otherwise. Now, it is possible that the narrator in “Jonathan” is unreliable, even insane. If so, what is the truth, and how can it be determined?
The classic example of the unreliable narrator, which I’m fond of citing, is André Gide’s La Symphonie pastorale (‘The Pastoral Symphony’). The narrator is a chronic and pathological liar, but he is caught out at the end by another character. With that revelation, readers have begin the novel all over again from a new point of view. Do readers have cause to do that in “Jonathan”?
[D. S.] In any event, it’s another fine offering by BwS and, as you stated, I hope to read more of Ms. Gomel’s work at Bewildering Stories.
[D. W.] I agree that the story is quite provocative and mysterious. Its main theme is the narrator’s view that autism may be an evolutionary advance. However, we have only the narrator’s word for it, and I, for one, don’t buy it. Does the story imply that the victims of a neurological disorder ought to be treated without condescension? Well and good, but making such a victim a murderer leaves a bad taste.
On the other hand, is the narrator insane, and does she commit a triple murder? That would take the child off the hook, but what evidence do we have for it? The narrator seems to have hallucinations, such as hearing the child speak unaccountably with adult proficiency in Russian. I think we can infer she’s lonely and delusional. But from there to conclude she’s a homicidal maniac? That’s a step readers can’t take of their own accord.
[D. S.] Finally, the last time we wrote I told you that I had read and very much enjoyed your “Noticed” stories. You asked me if I could guess where you might go with the final segment of your projected trilogy. I responded, but you didn’t reply. Does that mean I was way off base with my conjecture? To refresh your memory, I suggested it might be entitled “Getting Noticed” and be about a time traveler who becomes stranded in the past for failure to be sufficiently attentive to such admonitions.
[D. W.] Thank you for the feedback! Sorry I didn’t get back to you about your surmise; it follows quite logically from the settings of the first two stories. Suffice it to say at this point that when and if I get a chance to write the third story, it will be rather different from the first two and will take a turn you may find surprising.
Always good to hear from you, Donald, and please keep up the good work!
Copyright © 2012 by Donald Schneider
and Bewildering Stories