I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective, or what writers call point of view (POV). In my upcoming novel What Keeps You I challenged myself to break the barriers of POV, which resulted in two storylines. One is told from the perspective of the dead in first-person omniscient (they can hear each other’s thoughts) and the other is told from the perspective of the living in traditional third-person omniscient. I took it a step further, though, and told the story of the dead in present tense, while telling the story of the living in past tense. Isn’t most of life told in past tense? But what about death—how do we tell it? We can only speculate, and I have a strong suspicion that if we are conscious at all, it’s a trap of perpetual presence.
My fascination with POV was recently rewarded by Peter Selgin’s memoir The Inventors and his use of second-person. In an effective and refreshing twist on adult retrospective, Selgin writes, not about, but to his younger self, pointing out what the boy wouldn’t have grasped in the moment, what his older self has learned, and where his boyish self has simply disappointed him. The perspective might feel harsh, if we didn’t each engage in similar acts of self-scorn. These second-person passages, which the book is primarily comprised of, are voyeuristic and haunting in quality. They give the work a feel that is somehow less memoir-ish—a genre with the potential for myopic self-importance. Instead, we experience the intimacy of another man’s private struggle with identity, desire, confusion, and blame as if he is not the one telling us.
You can read my review of The Inventors at Colorado Review.