"Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think." Dhammapada as translated by Eknath Easwaran.
I am still working on reading the third story, but I wanted to write a comment as soon as possible. I'm really fascinated by how much death is in these stories, or at least the first two. Barrett really likes death. Each time someone dies, it is told so casually, something that is known widely within books like Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. And this nonchalance of tragedy doesn't just stop with people—animals apply to this to, as shown in "Birds With No Feet." Although it is shown how much it affects Alec that his findings are gone, there is still such ease in the voice that it is apparent that it can be overcome. I think that's something a lot of the stories we read for class have, and what I think a lot of beginning short-story writers can strive for—nonchalance. Allowing tragedies and insane occurrences to exist within the text as they would be seen by an onlooker. Keeping the writing objective. Separating it from the emotions of the writer and narrater, even if it is written in first person. Because, then, the reader has the opportunity to project their own emotions onto the text, which is often what a reader wants to do (even if only subconsciously). Now I shall read the third story, and see if this contributes to, or challenges, my ideas.
This issue with placeholders, I find, is that often I never know what to write for them. Especially something with as brief a sentence as this. But it's 10:19pm on a Tuesday night and I want nothing else but to go to bed or write or do something that is either productive or lets me ignore a lack of productivity. So, here I am.Barrett always writes like that. Her style is so precise and long-winded (though not necessarily in a bad way), and she focuses so much on details and accuracy it in some cases becomes more important than the story. But what I noticed - and liked - about her writing style is how that obsession with detail rubs off onto her characters. All of them are stuck inside their head and driven by emotional or physical isolation (or both). Max's entire deal in "Servants of the Map" is about his awareness of his own loneliness and change, while Antonia in "The Behavior of the Hawkweeds" is such a private person that she finds herself holding onto to everything private until she realizes she's let someone else tell the story incorrectly. Alec in "Birds with No Feet" has a very similar vibe, although unlike the other two he is primarily focused on ideas of a legacy and making his own (and is tragically unsuccessful on most accounts). Because of her own style of writing, Barrett dwells on what these character's emotions really mean, and what the sensation of being alone either physically or emotionally, does to you. What happens when all you have left is you and your own thoughts and actions?
I'm going to focus more on her story The Behavior of Hawkweeds. The first thing I noticed in her writing was her knack for details, specifically science and nature in this story. I personally enjoyed all of the small details because that's what made it special for me. I finished the story having read a great fiction piece, but i also learned a great amount of information and I appreciate her dedication to tell not just an enjoyable but accurate story.The story as a whole felt very complete to me in many ways. One being Antonia was touched as a little girl creating conflict and then later in her adult life when she touched Sebastian causing a scene. Also how the action of the story came full circle where Antonia returned to the back of her husbands classroom smiling at him as they were in the beginning. And lastly how Richard was always sensitive about his genetic disorder yet their grandchild was born with six toes. Again, a lot of small details coming full circle that i appreciated.And lastly, this story touched on a lot of social/political issues still relevant today. One that i picked up on was about the history/culture of Antonia's family and what it felt like to have a deep lineage to trace back to. There was some conversation between young Antonia and her mother about why you shouldn't hate Germans because of one man and this felt powerful because things like this happen where children are raised to be prejudice by parents. I think it also touched a little on what it actually means to be an American because young Antonia had a conversation with her mother as well and also Antonia said Richards family had no history because they all grew up in America. And also, for the time period of college students in the 70s and how it can really relate to our time where it seems like there is a new protest every week.
I don't think my comment will live up to everything previous mentioned. Barrett's stories are heavily detailed and focused on precision that the pieces can be disorienting at times. Precision isn't a horrible thing, but I also like having wiggle room to imagine my own things in the story too. I agree with Savanna, there were times the stories did feel long-winded, and I'm not sure how to feel about it. The reader can definitely tell Barrett did her research. While I did enjoy her stories, I felt myself zone out at how the details seemed to out weigh what was going on.
Wow, everyone wrote a lot. For me, my favourite parts of Barrett's stories is the historical fiction as told through the sciences. Many stories within the historical fiction genre tell the same stories within the time period as they are modeled after the fiction of those time periods (ex. The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, The Odyssey, etc.). In a lot of ways historical fiction (while it can be realistic) is still genre fiction due to the formulaic-ism. Barrett does not do that. She experiments with science fiction (but not sci-fi, like science incorporated into fiction) and historical fiction. She tells the stories of old worlds meeting new worlds. She takes the classic immigrant narrative of old world vs. new world and almost literally has her characters face it. My favourite was "The Behavior of the Hawkweeds." I feel like it encompassed the passing of decades in two different worlds was flawless. In a lot of ways, the old world met the new world met the newer world met the newest world. But, that meeting of worlds was a constant in almost all of her stories.
I just looked up what her writing reminds me of. In high school, I read "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, and, like Barrett, it had the old world meeting the newest world. I won't get too much into "Everyday Use" but I did want to mention it.
Barrett's writing is very distant in its narration. I think this is purposeful in order to make every scene as detailed as possible. I personally like this style of writing because it allows me to connect with the world more and make my own assumptions about the characters. Many people think that detached perspective is less emotional. But I think there is plenty of emotion and intrigue within these stories. You just have to find it.
I didn't particularly enjoy Barrett's writing. Not that it was bad or anything, but it wasn't my cup of tea. I'm all for historically based or factually centered short stories (I love Claire Vaye Watkins' story about the Manson gang), but this just felt too dry for me. I think I also had issue with the fact that most of the stories took place in the 1800s, but I don't understand why I was so averse to that. I did like the difference in form used. I also feel like her prose was beautiful but sometimes overly formal. Or at least more formal than I would like. I do, however, really like her use of detail, especially in "Servants of the Map" and the description of the landscape.
Barrett has a long and languid way of meting out ideas. It starts with a very narrow focus, the narrators focus, that abruptly becomes broad due to a stream of consciousness exposition. The details flow around the page in a way that both behooves and bemoans the natural progression of thought processes. I found these stories ways of rolling forward at a plodding pace toward an end I was never sure of to be relaxing, but also a bit boring at times. Long short stories, while I appreciate the authors ability to string complex descriptors together in a way that keeps me focused for the entirety of the paragraph, I see it as an exercise rather than pleasurable at times.
I wasn't completely sure how to feel about these stories. Like everyone has been saying, an intense amount of detail (in the way that she writes) tends to be overwhelming and a lot to unpack. This doesn't necessarily make it bad, it just indicates to me that it's something for me to spend more time on. I feel like these pieces are things I could study for years while still discovering new meanings and details. I applaud the amount of research it appears she put into her pieces, as that is one thing I loathe to do with my own writing. It is something I'm working on, so these pieces were a goal to aim for, but also there were times where I felt it go overboard--so much so that I felt lulled out of the story. These pieces seemed to me a way for Andrea to get into the facts of the story, rather than a cohesive, polished story. If it were in workshop, there seemed to be many things that I personally would recommend cutting.
One of the things that I adore about "The Behavior of Hawkweeds" is how it's both familiar and strange, and in that it seems more like a story about anthropology than a story about science. Making the strange familiar and the familiar strange is the hallmark of anthropological research, and although the meat of the story is about scientific history, there's something of anthropolgy there as well. It's not a mistake that Barrett uses the narrator as someone who views other people, an observer of Richard's classes, an observer of her mother's discussion about prejudice based on country of origin, and the conclusions she draws, about how Richard is getting left behind by history, and her urge to know more about Sebastian as a human, and less as a scientific reservior point to anthropology. I adore the story outside this metaphor as well. The well woven flashbacks of the fight between Tati and Leininger and the opening description of the ordinary and the historical moment which the story depicts fascinate and draw me in.