Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis – A Matter of Intent

Synopsis: Willa Jo and Little Sister are up on the roof at Aunt Patty’s house. Willa Jo went up to watch the sunrise, and Little Sister followed, like she always does. But by mid-morning, they are still up on that roof, and soon it’s clear it wasn’t just the sunrise that brought them there.  The trouble is, coming down would mean they’d have to explain, and they just can’t find the words.
For the Writer: In this work the humanist life lesson of how persons with the right presence of mind can evolve into something better despite the legalistic oppression of the Christian Church seems contrived, which unfortunately stains an otherwise sensitively written story. Christians are negatively caricatured. I mean, come on, the Sunday school teacher’s name is Miss Pettibone, a name which would lead you to believe the story is a children’s allegory, along the lines of The Phantom Tollbooth, which it is not. In fact, the surname Pettibone is completely out-of-place compared to the other character names and the overall tone of realism throughout the book.
This underscores an observation I have made across the fiction genre. I have read many fantasy novels rich in bizarre characters and outlandish environments which somehow ring true, or brush close enough to the truth of human nature that the reader communes with the experience. Conversely, I have read many novels of fictional realism replete with so-called realistically drawn human beings which seem to be puppets manipulated by the author’s strings to make a point. (*See Microserfs for more on this topic.) It is the difference between letting our characters drive the story or imposing upon the created beings our writer’s wills. There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach. The Plague, Notes from the Underground or Animal Farm were all written from preconceived philosophical world views. It seems to me to be both an issue of perspective and of integrity. I am persuaded that regardless of the genre within which we write an author’s ideological underpinnings will sneak in. However, there are stories that feel surreptitious, such as the thinly veiled attack against the Catholic church in Kathryn Lasky’s The Capture. (Follow the tag ‘ideology’ for more on this topic.)
I have to mention that Couloumbis presents an excellent example in Getting Near to Baby of how to narrate a story in the first person. The author successfully employed the technique to create a memorable character with whom readers empathize.

Here is an example:
I want mom to read to us for an hour before bedtime, all of us in a clump like alligators in the sun so we can all look at the pictures together.Aunt Patty is too tires after dinner to do anything but watch television. She kisses us on the forehead and tucks us into bed before its even full dark. We want our mom. We’re worried about her having to sleep all alone. We worry that she doesn’t eat right, now that she doesn’t have us to feed. We miss her.
I hear Aunt patty’s bossy voice, rousing Uncle Hob out of his bed. She’s telling him he has to come outside to order us down. Or to plead with us, whichever he thinks will work. That sad feeling I have hardens into a mad feeling and I don’t think I’ll ever get down off this roof. I’ll stay here till kingdom comes.

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