Sunday, July 25, 2010

Essay without reflection that doesn't work

I just posted about a Lives column that doesn't have a lot of essayistic reflection, but that I think works. Now I want to tell you about a Lives column that doesn't have a lot of reflection that doesn't work.

What do I mean by "works"? It's when the writing is transformed from an anecdote into a experience, into something that you tell your friends about later, that makes you think about things that you haven't thought of before, or maybe just in a long time.

Another way of thinking about this might be: it mattered that THIS writer told this story. Many others could competently---even elegantly---narrate this series of events, but this writer added her special take or insight, and that made it unique.

In Night of 130 Teenagers I don't think this happens. Michael Kirikorian tells about a party he chaperoned for his girlfriend's teenage son, which predictably swelled in size due to uninvited guests and included a desperately drunk 15-year-old girl, and maybe unpredictably turned out to be pretty tame and harmless. But at the end I found myself saying, "so what?"

There are several ideas that are mentioned but then dropped. For example, at the beginning the writer says:
He said there were going to be about 70 kids attending, almost all of them from his private high school, where the tuition runs more than $20,000 a year. Not exactly my alma mater, Gardena High, if you read me.

and also mentions his history of being convicted for assault when younger and says he's not a typical chaperone. But he never follows up on that theme. He mentions that when he saw kids with beer and told them to take it back to their cars, they politely did so, which is an interesting detail, but he never makes any comment on that, explicitly or otherwise. The drunk 15-year-old girl gets home fine (she slept it off!) but there's no commentary on that either.

It's a story without any light shed on it, and I'm not sure why Kirikorian chose to write about it. The guy chaperoned a party, and it went OK. So what?

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