Christian scripture writes, and you may have heard before, “The truth will set you free.” And while not a theologian, I am confident other religious doctrines contain a similar teaching and that several interpretations exist as to what this might mean. For me, a woman in her twenties working and living in New York City, being free means staying true to myself.
Truth and telling can have potent consequences in narrative. When you speak the truth, a weight is lifted, and the burden of your secret is spread evenly throughout your history. The truth becomes a part of the fabric of your life. But it’s not always our turn to share our truths; sometimes, secrets are revealed to us. And they are frequently not welcome.
We sometimes talk about protagonists revealing and not revealing secrets in Sense Writing III workshops, as a way to create subtext in a scene and anticipation in the reader. In the stories chosen for this issue, our protagonists find themselves, instead, on the receiving end, either dealing with or just enduring the weight of the truth.
The story “Mourning” from Christie Barron, set in Israel, begins and ends with a boom. I like to think of these as “truth bombs,” relentlessly blasting reminders of this fractured reality. In this apocalyptic landscape, our protagonist is reaching out for tranquility, even vapidity (“the vacuous Twitter feeds”), only to be inevitably shattered by another boom.” But there is no shelter from what she knows is coming and cannot stop.
Mortality is possibly the most difficult truth anyone will face, and many don’t give enough credit to achieving its reconciliation—until it’s too late. In Pilar Rueda García Yakar’s “Intimate Silent Storm,” we find the narrator approaching this very milestone when she visits her dying aunt. This realization is depicted almost literally in the cleaning of the jar: “ I surrendered to knowing with all my being and sobbed quietly, with the sparking clean vessel…”
In the other stories, our narrators assume a more proactive role. Dan Martin’s “Old White Dude Does Hip Hop” explores, almost aggressively, what it truly means to be an “old white dude in a hip hop club.” Amidst hearty conversation with just the right kind of inquisitor, he is finally able to ask himself that question. In “Wound,” a wife imagines her divorce as a personified version of the severed tree outside her window. Healing would take time, she knew that much, but how to treat the gash? Emily Tobey writes, “I didn’t know whether to cover it or let it breathe.” The pain of divorce did eventually subside, as it should, and the narrator finds herself free to explore her unencumbered truth.
Certainly, in any good story there is a revelation. Conflict by its very nature reveals at once unseen truths that at least one character was not wishing to face. From compartmentalizing it or rolling with it, the intrigue in a story does not arise from the truth itself, but how the characters use it.