Friday, July 21, 2017

Unreliable narrators

Those of you who were English majors likely recall the term “unreliable narrator.” If you’re not familiar with the term, here’s one durable definition, coined in 1961 by the literary critic Wayne C. Booth: a fictional narrator whose credibility has been compromised. I myself was frustrated recently while trudging through a 500-page novel by the prolific Victorian-era writer Anthony Trollope. I found the unnamed narrator irritating—and, more to the point, confusing. A more well-known example, written a century later, is Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: a novel about an unreliable narrator obsessed with a twelve-year-old girl. And unreliable narrators don’t need to be fictional. One of them is the president of the United States. More to the point, I myself have shown signs at times of being an unreliable narrator myself.
This week I revisited a post from November 2015, titled “A kitchen accident.” At that time, I was more confident in my cooking skills, and I was looking forward to do more of the cooking, as a means of taking the pressure off Paula. That afternoon I rode my bike fifteen miles, and the release of endorphins made me feel exceedingly calm. But that evening’s dinner, a pumpkin melange, didn’t turn out so well. I recall the difficulty of using a paring knife to remove the pumpkin’s rind, and at one point removing the rind, I drew blood under my right thumb’s fingernail, drawing stinging pain. Then things became murky. The Dutch oven I was cooking in had a large Pyrex top, and rather then removing the top from the stove, I set it directly on top of a back burner, which was in the process of becoming cherry-red hot. When I probed the lid with a dinner knife, the lid disintegrated. After that, time slowed down, as in a nightmare.
That was my version, anyways. Paula’s version was different, and, not surprisingly, her version was the accurate one. I had written in my blog that Paula was in the kitchen when the Pyrex top. But that made no sense. If Paula had been in the kitchen with me, she would have been the one dealing with the shattered Pyrex top.
The upside, if there was one, came a couple days later, when I met with my neuropsychiatrist: She assuaged my concerns that I had experienced a hallucination. That, of course, was welcome news.

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