The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"The Being of It All" by Carol Emshwiller: An Appreciation by Tom Barlow

Tom Barlow

"The Being of It All"
by Carol Emshwiller

The protagonist and her little dog hear, in the thunder echoing through the mountains, a charge to "Do, be, proclaim. Become more than just your father's son." Typical God talk; light on specifics, heavy on the verbs, and patriarchal.

The shy young woman struggles with the charge; was it, perhaps, a wrong number? After all, the message refers to a son, not a daughter. She asks for clarification, but of course God can't be bothered to respond. She decides to accept the charge to be as she can be.

Emshwiller uses 1st person present tense to great effect in this story, quickly establishing our intimacy with the naïve, shy main character. The use of magical details adds to the fable-like quality of the narrative.

The line-level construction is delicious. For example. "I'll change my outfit. I'll not only wear my big black hat, I'll buy a red and white striped shirt. I'll get matching striped socks. I don't have to dress that way all the time. I can rest now and then and be my shy self when I'm wearing my gray and tan outfits."

Emswiller also drops in nuggets of insight, crafted in the unsophisticated voice of the character. For example, when considering the bold aggression of her dog (also female)--"It's all about her. How could I not see that? I always think everything means me. It's me, me, me, all the time. That's what makes a person shy. If it's not me, then what's to be shy about?"

Humor is an important component of the story, especially as it reveals character. The business about dressing her dog in a red jacket, to match the bold outfit she has bought for herself in an attempt to live up to her charge is hilarious.

This story is delightful in the spareness of its descriptions, its folksy tone and the charm of the narrator. The humor is sharp, the scenes crisp, and the resolution thought provoking in its open-endedness.

A great read by a master of the craft.

Link to story


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