365 Days of Women Writers

Women writers only – no boys allowed

Day 11 The Last Thing We Need by Claire Vaye Watkins

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There is a longstanding tradition of writing off into the unknown: fans do it to actors, musicians, writers they admire. Many of us are instructed to write to the President in elementary school. A friend used to regularly read a blog that was a series of open letters to Margaret Atwood.

Other than the last, these usually aren’t the sort of letters (or maybe they are, I just don’t write them) you usually find in works of fiction. In fiction, this contrivance of letters into the unknown that gives the narrator the courage or maybe honesty to tell the things that weigh on their soul.

I first encountered this particular literary convention in Judy Blume’s classic novel Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. And even at the time, the structure felt somewhat artificial (though I think this is perhaps something that is intrinsic to Blume – her novels always have an artificial sense to me) but one that is none the less effective.

In The Last Thing We Need the narrator, Thomas Gray, happens upon the detritus of an accident (or possibly a party) while out driving, he starts composing letters to Duane Moser who left several prescription bottles in the mess.

The trigger to the letter writing is some pictures of a ’66 Chevelle, the same car which was driven by a man who tries to rob Gray in while Gray’s working the overnight shift at a gas station, a man that Gray killed during that attempted robbery, a man that Gray recognized before Gray killed him, a man that has Gray has never mentioned to his wife.

This is the event Gray writes attempts to come to terms with in his letters.

For me, I found the story effective despite the artificiality of the structure. The one element that didn’t work for me was the ending where Gray’s daughter disappears for a short while on the morning of a camping trip.

Written by Chance

September 28, 2010 at 7:17 pm

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