unreliable narrators

Virginia Woolf wrote, “Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices”(Woolf). I don’t really remember the first time I doubted the opinions of a character in a novel or when I realized that perhaps poetry did not always impart truth, but I do know that all those notions came together in quite a spectacular manner when I read Crime and Punishment. As early as page 2 Dostoyevsky invites readers into his very real and awful world,

The heat in the street was terrible: and the airlessness, the bustle and the plaster, scaffolding, bricks, and dust all about him, and that special Petersburg stench, so familiar to all who are unable to get out of town in summer—all worked painfully upon the young man’s already overwrought nerves. The insufferable stench from the pothouses, which are particularly numerous in that part of the town, and the drunken men whom he met continually, although it was a working day, completed the revolting misery of the picture. An expression of the profoundest disgust gleamed for a moment in the young man’s refined face. He was, by the way, exceptionally handsome, above the average in height, slim, well-built, with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair. Soon he sank into deep thought, or more accurately speaking into a complete blankness of mind; he walked along not observing what was about him and not caring to observe it. From time to time, he would mutter something, from the habit of talking to himself, to which he had just confessed. At these moments he would become conscious that his ideas were sometimes in a tangle and that he was very weak; for two days he had scarcely tasted food.

The suspect mind of Raskolnikov was penned with the use of an omniscient point of view, and it is in that murky place that we begin our troubles. This narrator is not to be trusted on any account, his warped and privileged preoccupation with his own superiority clouds his vantage. Yet for many hundreds of pages we are led into his dangerous train of thought.

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Dear Joe,

As we are coming up on Valentine’s Day, I thought it high time I reach out and let you know how much I adore and love you Joe. Of course, I’m no home-wrecker, so let’s be clear, my love is strictly platonic. Besides I respect your Dr. Jill too much to turn your head. Undeniably, ever since you stood on the main stage and then stepped into the Oval office, I’ve been swooning. It’s more than your aviators or the way you roll up your sleeves with that cool let’s-get-to-work-attitude, but neither of those styling choices hurt. Who doesn’t love a man that knows how to get the job done and looks like a badass doing it? Oh Joe, Americans are so ready for someone smart and skilled and reliably ready to clean up the mess after four years of that incendiary would-be-King who lost the election yet lead a mob of ignorant and deceived to desecrate our Democracy and declare him Emperor. But to hell with that failed insurrection, just come on into our day to day and do your reuniting thing. Welcome you beautiful dish, President Joe Biden.

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Say Their Names

Say their names as you scramble your eggs, as you walk to grab your coffee, as you start your work day. Say their names when you hug your mom or your son or your neighbor or your uncle. Say their names as you end your day in bed with your partner. Say their name when you start your car or brush your teeth. When you say your prayers say their names. When you preach. When you teach. When you dance. Or cry. Or talk to your grandmother. Or the cop who pulls you over. Just keep saying their names until this ends and even then chant them out loud. Burn your incense, light your candles, and say their names.

As we let those names linger in our air, let us also remember that, “Since Jan. 1, 2015, 1,252 black people have been shot and killed by police, according to The Washington Post’s database tracking police shootings; that doesn’t even include those who died in police custody or were killed using other methods” (A Decade of Watching Black People Die).

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