The reaction to the story’s non-chronological structure was probably typical: mixed but favorable on the whole. “I think I was distracted when I read it because I got a bit confused at some points. Like I got confused for a bit on who got murdered in the camp and why.” But the same reader seems to agree with another who says that the structure kept him interested and guessing what had happened in the past, and that the result was “a very multi-faceted main character.” The consensus is that the story is a tightly-knit drama.
Yours truly chimed in with an observation that “Tanforan” is a “frame” story: it opens and closes within one brief moment at a trial scene in 1952, years after the events of the story take place. The result is an “imitation of memory,” where we see the past through the memories of the main character; and memories all exist side by side, at the same time.
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“Tanforan” shows, among many other things, that writers are not obliged to follow a standard, sequential narrative. However, it also shows that a departure from a chronological sequence cannot be done for its own sake: it must serve another purpose. As our readers have pointed out, historical cause and effect in “Tanforan” are subordinated to the main character’s psychological development: his awareness of himself and his role in a period of history.
Copyright © 2003 by Bewildering Stories