Response to Ethan Keeley’s “Straight Lines”

I looked on Gandy Dancer for both of my nonfiction/fiction pieces. I came across Ethan Keeley’s piece entitled “Straight Lines” and was immediately engaged by the sense of voice in the piece. It felt very natural and there was no point where I felt the story was forced or untrue. I must not have been paying very close attention to what I was doing, because I read the whole story before I realized that it was definitely not a nonfiction piece, however, it did make me reconsider a lot of my feelings and ideas about what separates fiction and nonfiction and fact.

I know that this is a fiction piece, because I found it in the fiction section of the archives, and because it takes place in Mississippi. It seems highly unlikely that someone from Mississippi would come to SUNY Geneseo for college. However, without these details, I’m not sure I would be able to so clearly pinpoint this piece as fiction. It does read as a fiction piece, as opposed to an essay. It is plot based with sections of dialogue, it is told in first person point-of-view, and includes a lot of inner monologue from the narrator. Normally, these traits would automatically make me lean towards a fiction piece. In this circumstance, though, I think it actually almost makes me rethink how automatically we may classify pieces as nonfiction or fiction based on these. Yes, generally, these are good guidelines. But who is to say that they must be so?

I tend to enjoy pieces that have a strong voice and focalized narration through the speaker. I am more engaged by these stories, and I think I understand them better. To me, that is the greatest strength within this piece. It is so short, but despite its length, I can understand each character with a decent amount of depth. When each character speaks, their pieces of dialogue vary in language in a way that doesn’t make me confused about who is speaking. Their quotes act as a method of characterization just as much as the narrator’s (a thirteen year old boy) insights about those people.

There doesn’t seem to be anything within this piece that isn’t serving a purpose. Each word and thought is carefully chosen and is doing the work it should be doing. I am also impressed by the balance of this piece. It doesn’t rely too heavily on any one technique, and it isn’t missing too much of anything either. There is just enough imagery and description of setting to transport the reader to that place and time without become overbearing. There is just enough dialogue to enhance the characters and plot, without becoming reliant. All of these techniques working together create an extremely realistic world and a very realistic tale, that it’s almost difficult to believe that it isn’t real. These are things that I think any writer of realistic fiction should consider when writing a piece. Fiction may be fiction, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be real.

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