To avoid spoilers, read Peter's story on Fictive Dream: 'There's No Place Like Home.'
Peter is a wonderful short fiction writer and because of this I am always on the lookout for his latest story. When I saw his name appear on Fictive Dream, one of my favourite short fiction publications, with his story, ‘There’s No Place Like Home,’ I guessed the story would be my choice for this week’s blog post.
Peter’s writing always manages to convey an effortlessness that captures the essence of a story in the fewest words. This is done through his ability to place visual images in the reader’s mind, a feat I know he is interested in mastering. (Here is a link to some of Peter's wonderful essays on Hemingway and story craft.) Take this as an example: ‘There was something about the white egrets that stalked the mudflats; something about their long white bodies, their detached movement, that reminded him of where he had been.’ The image of the birds’ ‘long white bodies,’ does so much here. For me, there is the collision of the pastoral image with the more horrible image of dead bodies, relating to the theme of the story.
I’ve always taken joy in Peter’s concision, and this story has brilliant examples of gesturing towards feelings and emotions: ‘The family doctor prescribed sleeping tablets. They worked at the start, but not now. Although he still took them.’ The protagonist’s experience is never made explicit, but through lines like this, we witness the difficulties he might have experienced during conflict. The fact he still takes the tablets, even though they don’t work, conveys a sense of hopelessness. Some basic sense of living with PTSD is expressed in this one idea.
The innocence of Briggs’ sister is used to great effect in the story, contrasting with Briggs himself. When she asks, ‘You gonna come see me in the play?’ Briggs discovers the play is, ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ This brings to mind the title, and the image used at the end of the story of Dorothy clicking ‘her ruby shoes.’ There are all sorts of clever ideas used here, in that his sister is performing, adopting a role, wearing a costume, in the same way Briggs does when serving in Afghanistan. Not only this, but maybe the colour red is used to further bring to mind the idea of blood and conflict: ‘red lipstick’ and ‘ruby shoes.’
The ending, for me is wonderfully ambiguous. Dorothy did find her way back home by clicking her heels; should we feel the same for Briggs here? Or is there a more ominous tone used in the final phrase, ‘gone for good?’ Maybe the way a person changes when put under such stress is the overarching meaning we take from this story. Briggs has changed and will never return the person he was before he left. There is no returning to Kansas…
This story, for me, attempts to comment on the suffering soldiers might experience after serving in war zones. I have no idea what that must feel like, but there is a tone ever-present in this story that gives me some idea. This is a brilliant story that gets even better with each read.
Note to self: Remember that placing two ideas or images close together can create one, even more powerful idea or emotion.
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