Unreliability regardless knowledge of the future

     There seem to be two lines of narration in the book: the text which is an older Alison’s account of past events, and the pictures that showed things that were actually taking place, and therefore the textual narration could provide readers with information of events that had not yet happened in the pictures. The older Alison could be more reliable than the younger one in sense of her knowledge of “future,” for example she foretold her father’s death — “It’s true that he didn’t kill himself until I was nearly twenty/But his absence resonated retroactively, echoing back through all the time I knew him”(23) — but it does not give her full credit as a reliable narrator. The older Alison attributed his father’s death to suicide, yet combined with her confession— “It’s possible that we chose to believe this because it was less painful” — which showed the cause of her father’s death was indeterminate, the readers could see her probably subconscious attempt to filter past events and her awareness of her subjectivity. Similarly, when the older Alison commented on the motive or feeling of the younger Alison, she filled in psychological activities which the dialogues and images failed to present, but it could be rather a reinterpretation of the event that we as readers could refer to instead of taking as truth.

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  1. The retrospective musings that Alison often conducts on her past interactions with her father that you address are one of the defining characteristics of this tragicomic, and also my favorite element of the work. Another section where this retrospective study is particularly effective in capturing Alison’s struggle to reframe her memories in the context of her father’s sudden death and to obtain some kind of truth, some insight about his thoughts and actions is the embalming room scene. Her father calls her in while working on a naked man with his chest cavity exposed, only to ask her to pass him the scissors. Alison looks back upon this incident with no small amount of confusion: “Maybe this was the same offhanded way his own notoriously cold father has shown him his first cadaver. Or maybe he felt that he’d become too inured to death, and was hoping to elicit from me an expression of the natural horror he was no longer capable of. Or maybe he just needed the scissors” (44-45). The question of whether, in this act of reinterpretation of the past with her knowledge of the present, Alison becomes an unreliable narrator is a riveting one, and one that changes depending on the basis of this reliability. What kind of truth is she expected to convey, and to whom is this truth true? Does a narrator like Alison who plays a self-aware, subjective role, one who perhaps tells this story not for some benefit to the reader but for her own attempt at piecing together a past that a sudden death shunted, even have an obligation to be unreliable? Might it be natural for her to be a so-called “unreliable narrator” if the story she seeks to re-tell and the character at the center of that story are both already unreliable? Finally, must fictional characters convey a cohesive narrative arc, or can they freely be like the Cumaean Sibyl, scattering the leaves of the story to the wind?

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