Monday, May 12, 2008

Reader's Diary #356- J. J. Steinfeld: In The Opposite Direction

Short Story Monday

Describing J. J. Steinfeld's "In The Opposite Direction" as meta-fiction or at least a metaphor for writing would be a guess on my part. But after a couple read- throughs, it's the best I can come up with.

This is the story of a man with apparent symptoms of a mental illness; it opens with a man named Corey walking down the street reflecting on how to get his life in order. When he remembers the morning his girlfriend walked out on him, the unease I felt as a reader began to creep in. The memories of scrambled eggs, hash browns, burnt toast-- were these details so significant because of the emotional blow associated with them? Or is it an obsession?

By the time he gets lost in the word stick ("stick around...stick-with-it-ness...stick in the mud...) and shoots a mannequin through a store window, any doubts that Corey might not be okay are quickly blown away.

Increasingly, more of Corey's issues come to light and a major obsession seemed to be with the abstract; perhaps most importantly, with words. I've come across a few books now with authors as characters and each time it's hard not to think of how the other author-- the author of the book or story-- must relate. But there seems to be something more going on "In The Opposite Direction" than simply writing "what one knows."

Getting back to the theory that the piece was meant to be a metaphor for writing. Perhaps the abstract ideas somehow represent early ideas that set a story in motion: vague ideas that need physical details to ground and arrange them into the story. Or could it be the other way around? Is it about finding the meaning in the otherwise trivial details and drawing a story from that?

It's the title that suggests to me that something else is going on. Perhaps the opposite direction in question is Steinfeld's suggestion that a writer is a potential madman who's learned to channel his obsessions into art. Corey, then, is the anti-writer, and this is Steinfeld's way of showing the fine line that separates.

It's quite a thought-provoking piece and I'd love to hear yours!


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I shall give it a read!

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Let me know what you think!