Microfiction: Bridging a Generational Gap?

by Rikki Seddon

The Capilano Review 3.12
Meredith Quartermain’s Collective Work;
The Not of What She Didn’t Know’

In today’s ever increasing online society of Twitter and blogging communities where it has become commonplace for anybody to be an ‘author’ several times a day in two hundred characters or less there is a struggle for space and people’s time. In the same way that newspapers use reactionary headings to draw potential customers in, it has become the norm to use excessively emotionally titles or infobursts to gain a reader’s attention in attempt to simply have a voice; for what is a writer without a reader?

As part of this new generation a new genre has emerged within the professional writing community, microfiction; where authors attempt to create a work of fiction in around five hundred words. The new challenge for these authors is to create captivating narratives without the luxury of a character history. Quartermain’s method involves generating small environments and small characters to fill her small stories. Her use of imagery and metaphor is effective in quickly captivating and charming her readers “I met a rat practising arpeggios” (Singing Lessons) since we require a frame into which to place the portraits of these characters. She exceeds in evoking an emotional reaction too such as in L’amante Anglaise where she writes “She put her tongue to her liquorice”, all the while asking us to question her players’ backgrounds.

Quartermain’s common themes are light-hearted childhood fantasy, as well as rebellion and internal conflict. Yet each narrative successfully stands alone in its content and it is expected that there should be no continuous character. However her over-abundant use of ‘I’, ‘Myself’ and ‘The Narrator’ imparts a feeling where Quartermain is reading over our shoulder and cannot bear for us not to recognise her in her work. This frequently feels very childish; she is a kid with her toys, self-involved and domineering, trying to determine who she is through play; “Oh my narrator, my narrator, I’ve lost her, breathed my acrobat” (My Characters).

Due to this use of first person narrative the focus is frequently lost from the stories. It is hard enough for them to be captivating since they are so short and lack context. Instead we wonder whether this is simply Quartermain’s tiresome attempt for self recognition and involvement in her own work. The egobiographical line between professional author and professional blogger is blurred.

The Not of What She Didn’t Know‘ is a colourful poetic collection that invites readers to question what the back-stories of everyday people might be. The endearing child-like quality is often playful and amusing, but surprisingly does not lend itself to being an easy read and the work is let down by incessant interruptions from the author. The reader is hindered from emotionally engaging with the already superficial characters and lacks empathy since few are given names and most are ordinary and everyday; the Golfer, the Teacher, the Woodsman. Quartermain has a passionate expressive style and poetically writes about what she knows, but is a character a character if they have no discernible characteristics?

By Rachael ‘Rikki’ Seddon

1st Feb 2011
11:02 pm

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