Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Through the Safety Net" by Charles Baxter

A member of my email workshop recently remarked, in regards to the story in our group currently up for critique, that its ending fell a bit flat. But that he has reservations about making such a comment, because he himself finds endings difficult to write. Charles Baxter’s Through the Safety Net gave me a lot to think about in terms of endings. In this collection, the endings are definitely in the trail-off vein, rather than being climatic or providing resolution. Which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary—to have a slow end, like the final ring in a string of bell tolls—except Baxter's stories don’t begin by proclaiming what they’re about, either. So you don’t set out with a road map, and the ending doesn’t tell you the ride is over and to unbuckle your belt. And yet the stories are completely round; they successfully exist in the parameters they’ve established. It’s like a glass ceiling on all sides.

And for the life of me, I can’t figure out how Baxter does it. Part of the success might be in the third-person voice, which lets you move in and out of places without having to give explanations. Doing so in the first-person would render the voice inauthentic, or make all of your first-person narrators all coolly removed in all the exact same ways (which isn't a very flattering explanation).

But anyway, seriously. These stories are good. Can Baxter give us humble writers-in-training a backstage tour? Like Universal Studios. Please? I promise to keep my hands inside the car. And just tell me when the ride’s up, I'll unbuckle and exit to the right without remonstration.

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