Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Second person

I've been rereading Jane Rule's 1970 novel This Is Not For You, and I've realized it had a subtle effect on The Secret Year, which I didn't realize at the time. Rule's book is written in first and second person--that is, it's a first person narrator (Kate) writing to another character (Esther), whom she has loved for years. And yet, Kate doesn't expect or intend Esther ever to read these words. She addresses Esther, but she is really writing for herself (hence the title, This Is Not For You). It's a form of letter never sent.

This is exactly what my character Julia did in The Secret Year--she kept a diary of letters written to her secret boyfriend, and yet she never really meant for him to read them. She was having a one-sided mental dialogue, if that makes any sense. Julia's diary was also based loosely on diary-type letters-never-sent that I generated during some of the more painful relationships in my life.

I suppose this form of second person can seem gimmicky, but I actually love the way Rule pulls it off in This Is Not for You. She also sustains an interesting tension, because the whole book is about unrequited love--or love that is returned, but not exactly in kind. And despite this extended unfulfillment, the narrator doesn't indulge in sentimentality or angst, except for a brief flash here and there. Instead, she's perceptive, practical, and sometimes wickedly funny. The style is cerebral, subtle.

The use of second person also makes us see Esther differently than we would if she were a third-person character. The use of "you" filters every reference to Esther through the women's longstanding relationship. Kate is not telling us about her friend; she is talking to Esther and we are eavesdropping--which creates a whole different tone, a different level of intimacy.

Have you ever thought of using second person in any of your work?

No comments:

Post a Comment