Point of View – Reminiscent narration shifting
The current challenge I’m working through with the novel is dealing with one of two chapters from Foster’s early years. The first is the prologue, which recounts his father’s disappearance when he was ten years old. The second (currently Chapter 7) tells the story of his mother’s death when he was 13. They were originally conceived and written as back story, without the intention of actually being included in the novel itself. Especially the prologue, though is a piece of writing I really like, and believe adds important depth in understanding Foster’s urge to preserve the situation in Edenboro.
The problem I face, though, is that the point of view used in these two chapters is not consistent with the rest of the novel. Both are done using a reminiscent narrator, but the narrator in the other parts of the novel is in his forties, and the narrator in these two chapters is much younger. Here’s a small example of the reminiscent narrator in the second chapter:
We watched from the lockmaster’s tower as a boat passed the lock. The chamber was half as long as others on the river, and the rafts had to be moved through in two parts. Together, the lock and boat crews worked to unlash the front four barges and winch them into the lock. Free of the tow boat’s firm control, the barges drifted, striking the chamber with a hollow boom like thunder—so much so I glanced up at the gathered clouds. I would learn the sound traveled far, so that sometimes in downtown Edenboro you could hear it. You would stop in the street and listen, wondering if it was a storm in the distance; then you would hear it again, and maybe again, and after you heard it a few times you would know for sure either way.
The phrase “I would learn” places the narrator ahead of the present time of the story, looking back. The reader learns through other such references that the narrator (future Foster) is looking back at the person he was during the present time of the story. Now here’s an example from chapter 7, as Foster recalls coming out of the movie theater his family would go to when he was a child and meeting his father:
She took me by the hand then, and June held onto the twins–Cara and Kathy–as we walked up the aisle and through the lobby. Everything looked swimming and unsteady as I rubbed my eyes, squinting, and Papa appeared suddenly out of the brightness. He wore his best dark suit and always had a flower in his lapel, a red carnation. He pulled it out and gave it to June, then picked up the twins one in each arm. Mark, a moody and sulking teenager, strayed away from the rest of us as Papa kissed Mama on the cheek. Together we all walked to the Big Boy, where we at burgers and fries, food we weren’t allowed to eat at home. We shopped for whatever Mama wanted, new clothes or china or curtains, and June and Mark and I were loaded down with packages. Afterward, we went to Rourke’s drug store and bought comic books and balsa wood airplanes, and paper dolls for the twins.
In this passage, the phrases “always had a flower” and “a moody and sulking teenager” mark the narrator as reminiscent, but other word choices, including the use of “Mama” and “Papa,” place the narrator as younger than the one in the previous passage. Here’s the same passage reworked to address the difference:
She’d take me by the hand then, while June held onto the twins–Cara and Kathy–as we walked up the aisle and through the lobby. Everything looked swimming and unsteady, and as I rubbed my eyes, squinting, my father would appear out of the brightness. He wore his best dark suit on Saturdays and always had a flower in the lapel, a red carnation. He pulled it out and gave it to June, then picked up the twins, one in each arm. Mark, moody and sulking, strayed from the rest of us as my father kissed my mother on the cheek. Together we all walked to the Big Boy and ate burgers and fries, food we weren’t allowed at home. Afterward we would shop for whatever my mother wanted, new clothes or china or curtains, and June and Mark and I would be loaded down with packages. When she was done shopping, we went to Rourke’s drug store and bought comic books and balsa wood airplanes, and paper dolls for the twins.
Even retyping these side-by-side, I’m becoming aware of changes I didn’t know I’d made to shift to an older narrator. I’d guess this is because it’s a matter of locking into the voice of the older narrator, rather than making conscious choices at a line-by-line level.