Author Archives: Emily McClemont

The Intertwined Fiction and Nonfiction within Jenny Johnson’s “In the Dream”

In her poem, In the Dream, Jenny Johnson intertwines the fictional aspect of events as experienced while dreaming with nonfictional events of the speaker’s past. The opening line of the first couplet of In the Dream, “I was alone in a dyke bar we’d traversed before,” gives readers an immediate sense of the speaker’s tone and attitude, using dyke as a not entirely socially-accepted form of lesbian, and places the poem within a seemingly realistic setting. “I was alone in…” represents both the dreamlike-state titling the poem and a realistic life event, perhaps experienced by the speaker.

The speaker’s time spent in the “dyke bar” begins to shift from realistic and believable to the fictional state of a dream, as it states, “or maybe it was in a way all our dives/merging together suddenly as one intergalactic composite,/one glitter-spritzed black hole,” presenting the poem with its first dip into an outer-space, fantasy like fictional setting. Readers’ time spent within the “intergalactic composite” begins to intertwine the dream’s setting with imagery of a nonfiction experience, “managing to forever stabilize in space/ without a landlord scheming to shut the place down,” claiming the speaker’s time in the bar is at a standstill, particular and characteristic of dreams, yet being identified as landlord-less, tying a nonfiction aspect to the standstill within the speaker’s dream.

The aspects of the bar begin to present the most recognizable dreamlike features as the poem continues, “but the room/ had no end and no ceiling.” “Maybe the tables were spinning, too. I can’t be sure.,” but are yet again accompanied by aspects of true-to-life experience at a bar, “I could see all of our friends or exes” “three people on bar stools, who were straight/ or closeted? but more importantly angry,” continually intertwining and blurring the lines between the poem’s fictional and nonfictional elements while beginning to prepare the poem for its return to an outer space imagery and setting.

The “three people on bar stools” begin to exhibit unfriendliness, as they are “not here to love/with jawlines set to throw epithets like darts/that might stick or knick or flutter past/ as erratically as they were fired./ You could say their hostility was a swirl/ nebulous as gas and dust,” yet again intertwining a realistic exhibition of “hostility” with a dreamlike-outer space feel and setting.

In the Dream begins its conclusion with perhaps the most obvious nonfictional element, a description of an elementary school event as a comparison to the “hostility” of those on the “bar stools,” “Like how when I was shoved in grade school/ on the blacktop in my boy jeans/ the teacher asked me if I had a strawberry/ because the wound was fresh as jam, glistening/ like pulp does after the skin of a fruit is/ peeled back clean with a knife,” recounting specific details and dialogue and furthering the speaker’s inclusion of nonfiction.

In the Dream strays from its use of couplets in one instance where the speaker asks, “I said: Do you realize where you are?,” a question enhancing the intertwining nonfiction and fiction ideas present within the poem and suggesting that the element of confusion regarding the factual basis of the poem provides a question of location touching on both the retelling of a childhood event and the setting of the bar within the speaker’s dream.

Elements of both fiction and nonfiction are evident within Johnson’s In the Dream, and work to enhance the intertwining of a dream and factual events experienced by the speaker.

The Prefacing Fiction Label of Marina Keegan’s “The Ingenue”

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories is a collection of pieces of the late Marina Keegan’s creative writing. Readers are prefaced with the sectioning of Keegan’s works, separated into two genre-specific halves. “The Ingenue,” a short story telling of a young couple’s waning relationship, is contained in the book’s fiction section. “The Ingenue” reads as a short story simply due to its preceding label. Reading the piece and lacking the knowledge of its basis in fiction proves a different experience.

Keegan recounts specific incidents preceding the narrator’s split from her boyfriend through comprehensive characterization via dialogue and description. The piece’s opening line, “The biggest fight in my relationship with Danny regards his absurd claim that he invented the popular middle school phenomenon of saying ‘cha-cha-cha’ after each phrase of the Happy Birthday song-an idea his ingenious sixth-grade brain allegedly spawned in a New Jersey Chuck E. Cheese and watched spread rapidly across 1993 America with an unprecedented rapidity,” utilizes the first person perspective to immediately introduce Danny and create a personal atmosphere- one containing a seemingly realistic disagreement between Danny and his narrating girlfriend.

Keegan continues her piece with minimal, yet effective descriptions of characters, mirroring the structure of a non-fictional conversation. “There were six of us. Danny, the bearded Noah, the delicate Eric, the old artistic director, and Olivia, whom I hated,” realistically describes the story’s major characters and presents readers a believable and seemingly factual insight into their fictional backgrounds.

Keegan’s use of dialogue also adds to the nonfictional quality her short story presents, providing conversations realistic in nature. The dialogue,“ ‘Show her the one with the square penis!’ Olivia laughed, and we all lunged up a banister less staircase… ‘It’s not that funny,’ Ricky, the artistic director, was as drunk as the rest of us,” provides witty banter and furthers the visual of the story’s beach house setting (“banister less staircase”). Although a nonfiction piece would most likely eliminate the reminders of character descriptions within the dialogue tags (“…the artistic director”), the dialogue proves realistic and unadjusted from a factual conversation.

Keegan furthers the seemingly nonfictional quality of her piece with self-description, displayed in a passage recounting the similarities between the narrator and her boyfriend, “We were so compatible, really. Really just so compatible in a number of ways. We had the same favorite band, the same exact one, and I used to act too, in college. We bonded over this at a party were we first met- some mutual friend of a friend and I had walked into an unlocked bathroom to reveal him rinsing with the apartment owner’s Listerine.” The use of repetition (“…really. Really just so compatible…”), (“…the same favorite band, the same exact one…”), fragment sentences, (“Really just so compatible in a number of ways”), and detailed retelling of a party, conveys the feeling of an actual conversation the narrator may have had. The conversation acts as if it is convincing an outside party (or perhaps the speaker herself), of the rationale behind the decision to date Danny, enhancing the realistic quality of the piece.

“The Ingenue” makes use of the first person perspective, minimal and effective character descriptions, and characterization via outer and inner dialogue, to create a seemingly nonfiction piece. Reading “The Ingenue” without prior knowledge of its basis in fiction would most likely result in the believing of the piece’s nonfiction nature. Prefacing the piece with a fiction label prevents readers from experiencing the piece on a more personal level, and reading this piece without its preceding label may provide readers a reading more applicable and relevant. “The Ingenue” creates an atmosphere that seems to be based in nonfiction and would be assumed, most likely, that its basis is in fact, had it not been prefaced with a fiction label.