Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Short-a-Day: Peter Orner's "No Light"

Originally published in A Public Space 01, Spring 2006. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 55.

Orner's going for mood in this microstory, using a mix of the second person and a more dramatic version of The Actor's Nightmare to put the reader into the story, as a man who has just awoken in the middle of Act II of Chekhov's Three Sisters, unsure of the character, the lines, and of himself. It's an effective use of second person, and the appropriation of Chekhov is fitting, especially in the juxtaposition between Vershinin's lines--whispered urgently from the wings--and the twin feelings of loss and need that we're meant to experience. "She retreats from you, crosses slowly to the other side of the stage, and somehow the distance her steps create is the saddest thing you've ever watched. Who needs words when you can dig a hole like that simply by walking across a room?" 

That's some seriously strange subtext, and it hinges on this: "Love? How can it be remembered if it was never known? A play is a fixed universe and you've fallen off, but even this doesn't matter now. You'd stroke Susan's drenched, ruined face if you could reach her, if you could ever reach her." The result, of course, is that this all feels like a brief dream, one that is reaching toward specificity--with the identification of Susan Stempler as the actress playing Vershinin's opposite, Masha--but never quite getting there. "It's all vaguely familiar," writes Orner, hinting at windows within windows, but showing only a haunting hall of mirrors. Perhaps that is love, impossibly unrecognizable, but the romantic in me wishes this story would do a little more than briefly flicker and die.

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