The Undependable Narrator

The unreliable narrator is a concept commonly used in discussing literature that uses deceit of the reader as part of its storytelling technique.  Basically, if parts of the story are revealed – or, sometimes, inferred – to be objectively false, then the narrator is unreliable.

Rereading Victory, it occurs to me that I think of this kind of narrator as a different kind of beast. They’re not unreliable, exactly. They tell you one thing, then they tell you a contradictory thing right after. The narrator is a character, which changes things right out of the gate. This seems to work best (at least for me) in a tight-first-person-almost-second-person story like Victory, which is another departure from the usual story form. That means their contradictions are directed squarely at the reader.

They’re not unreliable. They’re undependable. Not only will they deceive you, but they are unselfconcious about it and don’t try to make the reader feel at ease. It’s a bit of a negative space to the traditional narrator, whose primary job is to entertain the reader. The undependable soul is rough and human. This is the nominal goal of St. Anger‘s low production values – one gets rid of the smooth, sometimes greasy feeling that comes with careful honing, relying instead on a connection at a baser level.

Each thing I write is kind of new to me; I don’t find myself feeling any urge to repeat myself. I do plan my projects to complement one another, though, and I wonder if I’ll find a place for this low-production style somewhere else someday soon.