PEN/O.Henry 2011: Brian Everson – “Windeye” originally from PEN America

For a time, it felt like he had brought the problem to life himself by stating it, that if he hadn’t said anything the half-window wouldn’t be there. Was that possible? He didn’t think so, that wasn’t the way the world worked. But even later, once he was grown, he still found himself wondering sometimes if it was his fault, if it was something he had done. Or rather, said.

I occasionally have a recurring dream: if I think the wrong thing, the universe will disperse. I’m not sure I’m explaining it right. It’s a dream, after all, and dreams are the closest most of us come to insanity – everything makes sense within the dream, leaps of time and space and breathing underwater and knowing people you’ve never met before, then it dissolves when you try to explain it later, awake. From what I understand, it’s related to “magical thinking,” a leftover from early childhood, immortalized in “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” And in churches that talk about “impure thoughts” and “lusting in one’s heart.” And in mothers who scold, “You should be ashamed for even thinking that!”

If I’m dawdling before addressing this actual story, it’s because I’m not really going to address it, other than to say I was moved by it. It’s short; it’s available online. Read it. After all – I can quote the author himself, who says in a piece from The Collagist:

Not long ago I had an email from a reader which said, in part: “I’ve been grappling with your short narrative called ‘Windeye’ for the past week, and I can’t seem to get a firm grasp on the true meaning… [A]ll of my interpretations seem to have faults. Is there any way you would be able to shed some light on the meaning of the story?”
I let the email sit a few days. I considered not answering it. The problem was that no, I couldn’t really shed light on the meaning, true or not, of the story.
I don’t think of the story as a container for, or repository of, meaning. My sympathies lie much closer to what I see functioning in Scott Bradfield’s novel: such fiction is experiential, and for me it is successful to the degree to which it allows readers to undergo an experience outside their immediate realm of possibility, and to the degree to which that second-level experience in turn functions in relation to the first-level experience that we think of as living.

I have no idea what that means. Just like I have no idea what the story “means.” But I know that I was absorbed into it, I was startled at one point, delighted and saddened at others, and that’s quite a lot to get out of 2200 words.

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