Julio Cortázar, “Axolōtl”

Here we see a man turn into a salamander. It’s a pretty bewitching story, telling you in the first paragraph that the person talking is now a Mexican salamander in its larval stage. The story is the POV. In the flashback, background stuff, we hear about his trips to the zoo, his enchantment with these small creatures that barely move, the imprisonment they feel. Then suddenly the viewpoint switches from outside to inside the glass. The body he formerly occupied forgets and goes on, but the part of him that was capable of empathizing with these creatures stays trapped there with them, fully aware of their condition, just as obsessed as the man had been at his peak. This is about as emotionally accurate as anything I’ve ever read. As a result I don’t have much to say about it.

Julio Cortázar, “Graffiti”

Now this is an apostrophe. One specific character is being addressed by the narrator in the form of “you.” The narrator has her own distinct presence and active body in the story. It is a combination of first and second POVs. We are given deep access into the “you,” so deep at times it feels like purely second person, even if we are aware of an “I” from the beginning. But the “I” come back with such force at the end that it feels like a breaking through a brick wall, as if she’d been confined this whole time, just waiting for her chance to get out and into the world, which not coincidentally lines up nicely with the themes of the story.

Jess Walter, “Thief”

Abrupt POV shift at the end here to accomplish the rare ending that is both a reveal and not a reveal. Schröedinger’s ending, I call it. We get an identity of the suspected thief, but only in voice, and in the retroactive realization that the whole story, while told in third-person limited to the father, was actually coming from the perspective of this thief. Odds are its the wife, who even third-persons herself in the last sentence reveal, up until the penultimate word, “my.” But the kids don’t seem that unhappy with the life the father provides for them. Only the wife knows how crazy this thievery would and does drive him. Only she needs some agency, some guilty pleasure, some retaliation for this life she’s stuck in. But there’s still plenty of guilt for doing so. If she knows he’s in the closet waiting for the thief, she might’ve even been hoping he’d catch her. This perspective reveal at the end makes you read the entire story again. Some would criticize it as a gimmick, and in a way it is, but I think it would only be offensively gimmicky if we were allowed to know exactly who the thief is, and if the emotional effect of that last sentence didn’t ring true. For me, it does.

John Edgar Wideman, “Fever”

At last, a poem that is called a poem. Lots and lots of splashes of paint on this canvas, from many different angles, including a mosquito, which is brief and surprising enough not to be annoying. The most interesting one was the one switch to a much further temporal remove. Overall it’s an interesting picture, I think exactly what he was going for.