A Few More Layers between Past and Present

brick“Brick by Brick”

Mika Taylor

Tin House Flash Fridays

⇒This is the story of a haunting. This is a story about remnants. In the way in which the story is structured and the We-narrator speaks, the remnants themselves come to stand in for or even overshadow the past they represent. While the protagonists(s) are haunted by the memory of a past event, it is the sign of the event and not the event itself that is presented as the crisis of the story.

In “Brick by Brick,” Mika Taylor shows true mastery of a narrative form that has seen a lot of usage over the past decades. I don’t even know what to call this form; perhaps I’ll call it an “escalation narrative,” since the actions/events described therein escalate from something small and manageable to something terrible and all-encompassing (I’m writing around the overall plot and premise of this piece, in case you haven’t read the story yet).

Wait, you say. Don’t all narratives escalate? Isn’t that another way of saying rising-action?

Let me rephrase: “Brick by Brick” follows a structure of procedural escalation; each action resembles but is far more drastic than its previous action.

Donald Barthelme’s “The School” and George Saunders’s “93990” are good examples of this form. The same thing happens over and over again, but something—a character’s reaction, the severity of the thing that happens—is building toward a crescendo.

This piece is very serious, though its narrative surface consists of seemingly mundane details—paint, spackle, linoleum. These are the layers that coat the memory of the event from which the protagonists can’t escape, by which they are haunted.

You’ll know by the end of the first paragraph what this story is about, what the big secret is. That knowledge doesn’t spoil the narrative’s progress but simply makes the piece darker, more psychologically complex, though the story itself follows a very simple formula. But what a successful formula it is.

Read the story here.

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