I felt like I wouldn’t really like this Aurelie Sheehan story, “Recognition”, in the latest dispatch from Guernica. But I did!

Reasons I thought I wouldn’t like it:

1. It’s literally compiled of false starts, which struck me as a little gimmicky before I read it.

2. It’s about a woman trying to get a fellowship so that she can write. And fiction about writers can sometimes be a little much. I’d actually never read a story expressly about trying to get a writing fellowship or grant, but I assumed I wouldn’t like it because, well, it’s a peculiarly and narrowly unglamorous premise.

3. I thought that because it referenced the process of applying for a fellowship it would be exclusionary and, um, MFA-y. Not that that’s so bad, but I’m very conflicted about the role of the MFA program, of academic models in general,¬† in literature. I’ll tell you about it some time.

Reasons I liked it a lot:

1. The gimmick dissolves under the surprising strength of the language Sheehan uses. There is an internal wavering, and near-repetitions in each of the false starts. These repeititive re-workings are a view on the conflict between the desire to create art and the need to have not only the art but your desire itself meet with recognition.

2. The core metaphor involves the book that the narrator wants to write, a fiction book full of novelistic and life like truth!, the one she needs the fellowship for, being actually a box. But it’s not that she’s actually engaging in conceptual writing, here, she’s not literally making a box, it’s not quite that formal. The narrator is obsessed with containing truth and life in words, boxing in details and experiences, and pinning down ephemera. She’s trying to figure out a structure for that could actually distill life into a solid¬† and knowable thing. The false starts really speak to the absurdity of this tortuous and necessary desire in the artist, in the writer, looking to get a little something to stay put on the page.

3. The last false start, where things kind of cohere for our narrator, is so lovely and rewarding after you’ve seen the wavering, the agony over form, the insecurities bound up in asking for money and time. While the whole thing is a successful short story, this is the part that gets close to our narrator’s purpoted aims, solidifying a feeling and a tone with words. Gorgeous.


You can read “Recognitions” here. I borrowed the photo above from Guernica, who in turn borrowed it from Flickr user Grievous Angel. I’m still working out how I wanna do images for the Thursday stories.