Friday, January 29, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Three Story Statement

Listen to the audio edition or download the MP3 of John Wiswell's "Three Story Statement" here.

All comments and feedback are welcome!

When you compare the three short stories and realize that Wisenheim wrote them all in the same summer, I think it’s obvious he was making a statement.

"Talky" was dumb. I don't know why you'd write a story that’s all dialogue. There’s no way to get into the action. I guess it works as art, but not as a good story. Even as art fiction, meh. His point is so obvious in that one, too. The radio dispatcher keeps getting information that’s wrong. Somebody tells him the last turn is ten miles from the depot, he relays it to the convoy, and they wind up lost and looted. He sends soldiers to the docks and the ships that radioed they'd be in an hour ago aren’t there. Any directions using palm trees fail because it turns out there are no palm trees. He quits when he realizes that he can’t know anything from a distance like this because he’ll rely on others and others are always fallible. That’s pretty lame, but I get why you assigned it. It's easy for Freshmen to analyze.

"Faithful" was the funniest. The guy is so obsessed with his wife cheating on him that he actually gives her the idea to do it. She's a perfect wife the whole story, so sweet and picking up after him. Being so mean and accusing her of being a harlot convinces her to try it out. So he’s wrong the first half of the story, but he’s also wrong for the second half - because he's convinced he was wrong. He feels guilty about all the accusations. He convinces himself she’s the perfect wife that she was to begin with and gets so guilty that he doesn’t even get up to check the heavy breathing in the next room. He thinks they’re moving furniture, which is what she and his best friend were actually doing in the opening scene when he suspects they were sleeping together! That’s funny, but it’s also a statement. He is wrong on every single page and the topic he’s wrong about is his personal life. He interprets the bedsprings creaking, and her tone, and that she’s flushed when she walks in from getting the mail – all of it wrong, and both ways. He can never know for sure about anything that doesn't happen right in front of him, even the obvious.

The third story is just mean. The tone is so condescending and Wisenheim even titled it "Idiot." I think the main character is mentally handicapped. You say caricature, but I say offensive stereotype. And he’s constantly being taken advantage of. A blind guy sells him a bad painting by out-talking him. A deaf guy sells him a broken cello by convincing the Idiot that this sound will be in vogue next year. The cologne salesman has no sense of smell but is rich because he went on what was popular instead of what he might have liked. Then the blind guy’s painting turns out to be a notorious fake that’s worth more than the original because of the infamy. The story trips over itself by getting as many personal, obvious things wrong as possible – he actually plays the broken cello and doesn’t realize there should be more strings and it’s out of tune. Then those wrong things turned out not to be right, but even more wrong in a way that’s better than if they were right – like his girlfriend falling back in love with him because he’s so pathetic playing that cello. He’s wrong about everything that’s right in front of him, or right on him. He can’t even tell if he likes the cologne. He decides he hates it just before the girlfriend compliments how he smells. So according to Wisenheim you can be an Idiot with a capital 'I' about what's right in front of you.

But here’s the thing: Wisenheim wrote all three in the same summer. He had all three points in mind at the same time and didn't pick just one. But the points are totally contradictory! What’s he saying? That strangers, friends, your wife and yourself are all unreliable? That you can’t know about stuff that’s far away, close or even right before your eyes? That’s scary. How would he even know to write the stories if all that was true? Unless it's because fiction is something he made up and that's the only thing he could know about.


  1. This took a reread and a think before I almost understood what you are doing in this piece of flash.

    Subtle, very subtle. I like that you are write/right about fiction.

  2. But, I'm not sure I did get it after all.

    I'll give you this, you made me think.

  3. How would he even know to write the stories if all that was true?

    Like most fiction - more truth than any of us would probably care to let on.

    A very different write from you wiz-man. Your truth I guess.

  4. Yes all three points are contradictory.

    Just like many truths in life.

    Add imagination to the mix, stir, and...fiction.

  5. I felt like was in the 'twilight zone,' or in a washing machine tumbling around:) I enjoyed your story last week and this one as well.

  6. Hey there! I came across this and thought you'd enjoy it: Wasn't sure how else to get in touch.

    Thank you for the Bathroom Monologues; I really enjoy reading them and sharing them with writerly friends of mine.

    - Jamie from way back when, Honorary Long Table Member

  7. Your 'freshman essay' voice is spot on - I felt like a teacher as I read it. I like how the protagonist is sure he knows everything and feels he can talk-back to the teacher, when at the end he's the one who ends up sounding silly. Youth ardent for a single truth.

  8. I'm glad I gave some people a little brain fiz! I hope it was pleasant and worth thinking over.

    Thank you, Mr. Solender. I try to do different things.

    And thank you David, that is exactly the voice I shot for.

    Jamie, you're welcome and I'm glad to hear from you again!

  9. After reading David's comment and your response, I understand what's going on, and NOW it seems so obvious! Funny how that happens. In any case, now that I understand the premise, I think it works beautifully. Maybe I need more coffee! ~ Olivia

  10. Very clever. Took me a while to get it though. May have needed a bit more of a headsup it was a fictional essay. I liked what you could guess about the narrative of the stories from the student's very poor renditions. And I liked the fact the student never really got what your fictional writer was saying. Great stuff.

  11. Great student essay voice, and reading along with the audio is fantastic. This is different. I like different.

  12. It took me a bit to get what was going on, but when I caught on I enjoyed it. Good story!

  13. Thanks for playing along, everyone!

  14. That was a lot of fun. The student gets more than he realizes.


Counter est. March 2, 2008