Friday, September 16, 2011

writer plus readers

We had an interesting discussion of a short story this week in my writers' workshop. The reactions and interpretations to the story were all over the board. It reminded me of how subjective fiction is, like other art. A piece of fiction doesn't truly come to life until a reader perceives and interprets it--and readers always bring their whole lives/backstory to that task. So, a story is different for every reader.

More specifically, the story in question was Raymond Carver's Cathedral. We all agreed that the writing was masterfully minimal and the characterization was extremely effective. Most agreed that the protagonist was a bigot and appeared to experience an epiphany of compassion/understanding in the end. We disagreed, however, on what it meant. Did the protagonist act or react? Did the protagonist truly change? Or did he just change for the moment? Did he realize he'd changed? And if he didn't realize it, was it still meaningful? To whom? The protagonist? The reader?

Did you read it? What do you think?