Ed Park: “Slide to Unlock” from TNY, 6/10-17/13

Lettering by Timothy Goodman; photograph by Grant Cornett

Lettering by Timothy Goodman; photograph by Grant Cornett

If you could type out all your passwords, their entire silent history, they would fill a book you could read in a minute.

And once again it’s the annual Fiction Issue of The New Yorker, this year with the theme “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The story art is a series of pieces by Timothy Goodman and Grant Cornett; they’re all presented on video here, to a jazzy noir soundtrack. Pretty cool.

We put our lives into our passwords, don’t we? Even though we’re not supposed to – don’t use the name or DOB of anyone close to you – we do it anyway, because how else can you remember all those passwords. Not to mention the test questions.

This story starts with a man recalling all the passwords for various accounts. In so doing, it’s as if his life is flashing before his eyes. We learn a great deal about him just from his mental explanations (“your daughter’s name”; the date of his first kiss). It’s fun, but a little strange. In the last two paragraphs, everything becomes clear.

You cycle through your passwords. They tell the secret story. What’s most important to you, the things you think can’t be deciphered. Words and numbers stored in the lining of your heart.

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece – it’s very short (and it has to be; to carry this out much longer would try the patience of even the most devoted oddball-narrative enthusiast), not even two pages, and it’s available online. And yes, it’s in second person. But don’t let that scare you off – even Cliff Garstang, self-avowed second-person-hater, liked the use of it here.

Is it a “trick” ending? It’s the second time in a week I’ve encountered a story that was pretty good but not great until the very end, when everything changed. I think I ran into a rule about that once: if your story doesn’t work without the last sentence, it’s not a good story. Maybe it’s ok if it’s a paragraph instead of a sentence?

In any case, it was an interesting enough story without the ending; the last paragraph elevated it to something else. Maybe that’s why writers use trick endings: when they work, they’re really, really good.

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