WRITING: Subtlety vs. Huh?

I have a story up at 52/250 this week but I’ll place it here for easier reference:

How I Came to Live in The Palm of His Hand

I snuggle down between the deepest creases of it, between the heart line and the head line of his left palm. His fingers curl over in a blanket. I am safe and warm.

On windy days he puts me in his pocket. Though still I feel the turbulence of the flying sand against my back, I face the warm beat of his heart and fall asleep sometimes, I am so safe.

It is easier now–though one would never think so–to cook his meals and clean our little house. I fly through as light as a cottonseed on the wind. My feet never touch the floor. I peek into the pots of simmering soups, stand on the edge and stir aromas into the air with my arms. I sleep upon a pillow by his side and barely make a dent into its silken softness. He smiles at me more warmly now and kisses me sweetly as he holds me in the palm of his hand. His hand I need no longer fear. His hand that is caressing, warm and safe.

I feel loved and cared for. I feel his admiration. I am the perfect wife, the perfect woman, here in the palm of his hand.

When is subtle too subtle? The first few comments showed me that this story was taken as a lovely little fantasy tale. Of course, the stories in this weekly series often number 30 or so which means that the folks who have dedicated themselves to reading them all are reading quickly. Still, I’m wondering if my years of training towards close-reading has affected my writing to the point of being too vague with meaning. Or, I could still be adamant that people read my stories the way I think the story goes. I don’t think so, though. I’m pleased that it seemed light and airy a piece, but still, I wonder how much is lost by mismanaging the clues to give each reader the information needed to come to at least the same conclusion about the general facts of the story while still leaving the nuances up to the individual reader.

In this story, what sounds fairy tale-like is not even magical realism but really, a simple metaphor. The speaker is not physically small, but her identity, her self-awareness has shrunken to this wisp of near nothing in her mind. The strongest, most telling sentence in the piece is:

“His hand I need no longer fear.”

These seven words are in direct conflict with the rest of what the story has laid down. That should be the turning point, the climax of the story. What follows would be considered the denouement, the explanation or in this case, the resolution of the conflict by her decision to let go of herself as a person, to survive by acceptance, presence without mental involvement.

There’s a fine line between ambiguity and confusion. I’m not sure I’ve yet learned how to balance on that edge. It is presumptuous of a writer to assume the reader will read the story as the writer intended, but it is foolish of a writer to mislead by not granting the same information of which the writer is aware.

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2 Responses to WRITING: Subtlety vs. Huh?

  1. Rose Hunter says:

    I like this story. Ambiguity v. confusion is something I think about quite a bit. There’s more leeway with this in poetry I think. (? sometimes, depending, etc.) You weren’t asking for suggestions but maybe you could separate that line from the text a bit, to make it pop for readers. I like it as is though! I took it as fairy tale and then (possible) metaphor….

  2. susan says:

    Thank you, Rose. It’s hard to guess where the line is drawn sometimes, and really, I’d rather write for the serious reader such as yourself than for the just-to-keep-busy reader, I guess. And you’re right, poetry does grant a bit more metaphor and mystery, and while I’m no poet, I do read and study it to apply its elements to prose.

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