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The Masturbating Banker: Author's Commentary


Part of a continuing series wherein I make commentary on my stories from a craft, narrative theory, and general writing perspective. If you haven't read the story, I recommend heading to my fiction page and reading it first. All the stories discussed here are available there—most for free.



The Author’s Take: (definite spoilers and light narrative wonkery)


Ridiculous title, I know, but what the hell. Anyway, one doesn’t have to look too far to imagine where I got the idea for a story like this. It’s about two years old as of this writing, and it already seems well behind the times. Yet it still seems relevant, at least for some. People spend so much time online, and still, there seem to be people who think they can put the worst of themselves into the public sphere without it catching up.


The obvious answer is obvious. Just put down the phone! Don’t write it if you wouldn’t say it to somebody’s face, right?


Far easier said than done in many cases. I’ve certainly been there myself. But I was playing with the places one could end up by simply being a little too casual with the powerful social tools we’ve created.


This story also has echoes of Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio” that weren’t quite evident to me until I read it through upon completion—the sneaky little sin that spirals into a catastrophe.


Yet again, I found myself playing with narration. There’s definite distance in the narration as the story opens. The third-person pronouns give the impression that the narrator is very much outside the storyworld, and there’s a fair bit of space between the reader and Ivy’s psyche, also giving the impression that one will be able to observe from a safe distance.


Narrative theorist Marie-Laure Ryan uses an analogy I like a lot: she talks about “telescope” distance and “starship” distance. The first being the reader’s perspective when the narration stays out at a distance, as though the reader is looking at character & storyworld as a curious observer views celestial bodies through the lens of a telescope. It’s all happening out there somewhere.


Starship perspective, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, is the inverse. You get in that sucker and pull right up to the scene. The narrative tools of starship perspective offer readers an incredibly immersive experience that helps them feel close to the story as it unfolds, seemingly around them. The contrast in this story is to a purpose.


I wanted to echo the way we think about other people when they’re out at telescope perspective—the strangers at the other side of the bar we might feel comfortable making snide comments about to our circle of friends.


I find the language people use referencing celebrities similar. They’re these objects we observe and think we know because we’ve seen them on TV playing sports, giving an interview, or acting in a movie. If you’ve seen the “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” gag on Jimmy Kimmel’s show or Youtube, you know exactly what I’m talking about.


I wanted Ivy to see Dalton this way, and I also wanted the reader to read Ivy this way—that it’s safe to think “what the hell is this stupid lady thinking,” only to have the perspective shift so much that the narrator is right there in the room with Ivy and with Dalton.


Then suddenly, they’re no longer the objects the reader might have thought they were—much like some of the celebrities reading those mean tweets become when they’re so hurt they can’t keep up the public persona they’re so used to wearing as a shield. When it happens, the genuine person shines through for a moment; you can see they’re obviously wounded, and then that celebrity ceases to be an object at the other end of a telescope.


Dalton, more so than Ivy, comes through in this way; but for her part, I think Ivy comes through as well—careless, yes, but filled with guilt almost to the point of denial over the genuine real-world pain she’s inflicted unintentionally. I needed the reader in the room with Ivy and Dalton, feeling those emotions.


The rub is that there’s always a bump when the style of narration seems to shift so drastically. In reality, the narrator doesn’t change. It’s Myra, and it always has been Myra, despite the reader not knowing it for the first part of the story.


The comments I got on this were about what I’d predicted—that it reads a lot like two totally different stories, which I think, in some ways it actually is. It’s one story about people as distant objects and another story about the people in the room with us, living through consequences that would be self-evident if only we were close enough to observe them in the moment. And there may never be a way to smooth out a bump so large without great difficulty, but here’s hoping…


P.E. Rowe


December, 2019

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