Something is odd this week. Not right. Are we in first person, still? How is it then that we’re getting all the instruction-manual second-person stories? I ask you, how? By which I mean, why?
Junot Díaz, “How to Date a Brown Girl, Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie”
Probably because this is definitely a narrator with a story, same as a first-person telling. This kid is kind of operating on the multiverse theory. Maybe these events described really are all hypothetical, but the far more likely option is that he’s basing his advice on one defining instance, with some other occasions of being with females in his apartment when his family leaves him used for context. He’s making himself sound more worldly and experienced than he is. This is how he sees himself, so it’s working under the same principles of many first-person stories that give honest accounts but from biased perspectives, stuff the reader has to sift through.
Jamaica Kincaid, “Girl”
This short-short was one of the more important influences on my writing, to try things that don’t sound like stories but to make them into stories nonetheless. The actual story here, if told in the proper first person from the mother’s perspective, would be just a mother giving advice to the daughter and the daughter reacting in an understandable way and the mother twisting things around to show us a side of her character that she can’t really see. Again, first person territory. Unlikely all this information would actually be imported back to back, so it would probably be broken up into about twenty paragraphs, to account for the passing of time. And that would be boring.
Lorrie Moore, “How to Become a Writer”
I’ve always heard people name-drop this story when talking about successful attempts at second-person narration, and so I’ve always wanted to read it. And after reading the previous two, it becomes hard to consider this as a proper second-person story. This is told in the strictest imperatives, with such specific characterizations (“You are great with kids,” “[Your mom] has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair”) that the object of the imperative can only be one person, sort of like Kincaid’s story, but not that similar to Díaz’s, in my opinion. On the detail level, this is working like the second-person I expect, but all the imperatives (“Don’t dwell on this”) work more like the above-mentioned stories, giving the narrator a place in the story as well, as in Follow my advice, me, the speaker. And this means we can separate the advice from the character and get a new perspective on who she is.