2013 Thesis Abstracts
Water Deep, Cold and Other Stories
Directed by Valerie Sayers
Water Deep, Cold is a collection of seven short stories which explore the meaning of place and environment, and which form a cohesive body of regional literature. Collectively set in Wisconsin, though individually tied to various intra-state locations, the pieces use a specific geography and landscape to engage with concerns of regional voice and consciousness, with sociocultural identity, and with the bond between individuals and place.
The collection is formally concerned with narrative realism and regionalism within the framework of lyric narration, and while each story takes a form best suited to its subject--shifting between points of view, narrative structure, and tense--the work as a whole maintains a dedication to language that is illuminating and opens the stories up, transporting rather than merely transcribing. The fiction of Melanie Rae Thon and Kent Haruf, as well as the poetry of Carter Revard, informed the lyric nature of the pieces, while the tangential concern of realism found inspiration and guidance in the works of regional writers such as Bonnie Jo Campbell, Frank Bill, and Bobbie Ann Mason. Each piece develops its own relation to strict realism, whether the traditional narrative realism of “Johnny” or the magical evolutions and narrative fluidity of “My Mother,” and though degrees of reality vary there is a concerted attention to psychological and emotional realism, which locates the stories within an overall sociocultural reality.
While Water Deep, Cold situates itself within a growing tradition of midwestern literature, it also attempts to incorporate contemporary environmental concerns and expand regionalism from merely geographically-oriented literature to include works that are conscious of their physical location as physical, real entities outside the fictional world. Both “Venison” and “Baby Teeth” use types of environmental or natural destruction as metaphoric narrative structures, yet they also employ these disasters in a very literal sense; contemporary environmental concerns, then, have a symbolic and literal presence in the stories, and suggest a connection or overlap between bodies of regional and environmental literature.
The Kumquat Victory
Directed by Azareen Vandervliet-Oloomi
“When people ask me my age, I have to think for a second or two before I can answer and sometimes I answer wrong. The right answer, I know, is 23, but I also know the more right answer is indeterminable because my body burned to a crisp in a store cellar 23 years ago.”
Coral Ko feels as if her every molecule is shifting and humming at different speeds, jumbled together in an incoherent, indefinable mass. She feels, in a word, incomplete. Born on April 30, 1992 on the concrete rooftop of her parents’ store as looters destroyed it below and LA burned, Coral enters into a family displaced and irrevocably altered by the experience. Not understanding the nature of the emptiness that continues to haunt them, Coral attempts to fill it physically and becomes attached to the notion that she once possessed a second body.
The grotesque body in literature brings together themes of death and life, transcended boundaries, and the degradation of all things to the material level. The Kumquat Victory focuses on self-identity and the inevitable loss that accompanies emigration, one that goes beyond culture to tear into the intimate history of a family. Coral’s fixation upon the physicality of the defamiliarized body mirrors her attempts to piece together her own family tree and create a more whole sense of self. She is no historian; her imagination is left unchecked to fill in the gaps left by knowledge and memory. These disjointed family stories are inserted as footnotes, written by Coral as fragments of her overall work of a recorded family history. This reopens the possibility of an “omniscient” third-person exploration of each family member while still allowing for the silent spaces and omissions of the narrator. There are footnotes within footnotes; with the distance of each generation, so too is the distance between texts, representing structurally the reality of Coral’s story: a story composed of stories, and the hollow spaces between them.
Sickness and Healing
Directed by Valerie Sayers
In reading, we receive the friendship of an author who shares her creation, breath, and spirit with us. For me, writing is partially born out of a desire to reciprocate and offer my own friendship to others. My thesis Sickness and Healing, Part I of a novel, is offered in friendship to any man or woman “of twists and turns, driven time and again off course” and yearning for the hearth-smoke of home.
The novel is an odyssey (indebted to the Odyssey quoted above) with two wanderers, a gardener who slits the stems of plants to make them sing, and a young girl who, one fateful day, ate the enchanted plants. Rooted in yearning, desperation, and joy is the primary characteristic of the prose and characters: energy. This energy causes every crevice of the novel to resonate until close to shattering – sensory imagery and acute expressions of self-consciousness alternately eclipse each other, the fleshiness of plant pulp rubbed on eyelids surging up beside the world of anxiety, making plans, dreaming, and scrutinizing others. The energy hurdles the novel (and the characters) towards two teloi, two homes, two faces of the living God who is love: creation and peace. (For if the energy cannot create or rest, if is contained only in a body, it will combust.) The girl and gardener are Aeneas, struggling towards the birthing of Rome, but also Augustine, with whom we can say: “Who shall bring me to rest in you? Who will send you into my heart so to overwhelm it that my sins shall be blotted out and I may embrace you, my only good?” (Confessions, chapter one).
The story is not only offered in friendship, but was born out of my own friendship with the communion of authors who came before. Their voices – Augustine, Whitman, Dostoevsky – occupy the text. It was my hope to invite the reader to conversation with these authors, and with the whole mythic and storytelling tradition. It is in this conversation, under this mentorship, that we can be converted – to life, to wonder, and to song.
Directed by William Krier
Immoderately Perceptive is the coming of age story of Jenna Holland, a young woman in her sophomore and junior years at the University of Notre Dame. Through her college relationships and liberal arts classes, Jenna struggles with issues of sexuality, religion, and gender. She must manage an abusive ex-boyfriend, the opposing advice of her two close girl friends, her new and sexually-conservative love interest, Parker, and an intellectually and emotionally challenging classmate, Max.
Jenna has a love-hate relationship with Notre Dame. Under the roofs of single-sex dorms, she finds interactions with the opposite sex stunted and awkward. The only common ties these young men and women share are religion and ND football. How can she feel accepted as a non-virgin when Parker and her best friend Grace (and the majority of her peers) are living lives of abstinence? Jenna loves the classroom experiences that challenge her, but her friends provide few opportunities for her to internalize these philosophical issues. Except for Max.
Directed by Steve Tomasula.
Toss-Up is a collection of interconnected short stories and short fictions focusing on a set of high school students. At the center of the narrative are the members of the school quiz bowl team. The stories explore the connections between the team members and their friends as they face challenges that seem to be too much for their age – challenges that, nevertheless, are faced by teenagers every day. The phenomenon of knowledge is also explored. The main characters, as quiz bowl kids, consider no subject area too obscure. They know a lot of things – calculus, philosophy, literature, chemistry – but it’s the things they don’t know that will turn out to be the most important.
Toss-Up draws on my own experience as the only girl on my high school’s quiz bowl team as well as on my interest in young adult or teen literature. I try to dispel the idea that young adult literature is necessarily light and lacking in merit. In the tradition of literary realism, I use my work to explore real social issues facing teenagers (and all ages) today, including depression, friendship, illness, and shifting family circumstances. This is the work that serious young adult literature is called to do. I have been influenced by such writers as John Green and Dave Eggers. Although the bulk of Toss-Up consists of long-form third-person short stories, I have also incorporated flash fictions in the voices of the characters themselves. This way they can share all the things they know, and all the things they don’t.
Where Goes the Briar Rose?
Directed by Steve Tomasula
Where Goes the Briar Rose? originated from the desire to flout any allegiance to traditional fairy tale structure, aesthetic and convention. However, inherent in the origins and survival of the fairy tale genre is the concept of transformation—from slippery, changeable word of mouth to print. Exploring the writing process and nature of a revisionist fairy tale, my creative thesis delved into history, criticism, and contemporary retellings to ask: How free could a revisionist fairy tale be?
Inextricably bound to the old tales and contemporary retellings, the selections from Where Goes the Briar Rose? aim to create a series of isolated tales in flux. The selected revisions seek out new insights and contemporary value through disassembled old tales; to subvert abusive elements in order to liberate something potential, dynamic, and new.
Traditionally, fairy tale characters move through a world lacking psychological illumination despite their fixed involvement. Yet, the genre’s natural tendency toward abstraction provides the untapped opportunity to follow the painful growth of an individual on an unwilling journey to consciousness. Fairy tales provide the form and structure for exploring the loss of personhood in a strange world. The tales have little concern for moral endings—they pursue the aesthetic pleasure of language and image in the darkly, surreal realm of the static, fairy tale girl.
Psychological illumination can strangely illustrate the fragility of clinging to fairy tale linearity in the frame of an unreceptive landscape. Briar, the overarching voice and collector of the tales, cannot exist without the other stories. Rather than fighting against the entrapments of enchantment, Briar finds salvation through the loss of her identity. The structure and action move through obscurity in search of definition.
To believe a fairy tale is well and good on the page. However, after leaving the surreal setting for the real, fairy tale language and devotion can develop a poisonous quality and become a land of darkness laced in frivolity, unhappiness gilded in gold. Though each fairy tale may be considered a universe in miniature, the moments that the voices touch, where the themes overlap, where the voices distort each other, the tales seek illumination and psychological depth, a more complex vision of the whole—if not for the characters than the reader.
“The Dancing Bones” A Screenplay
Directed by William Krier
A full-length screenplay in the mystery/ thriller genre, The Dancing Bones attempts to achieve a balance between literary merit and Hollywood marketability. The screenplay is formatted and structured for Hollywood and its genre-based business. And the events take place during the nineties, a time period viewers would find attractive according to the proven 20-year nostalgia theory.
Despite its consistency with the Hollywood format, The Dancing Bones is a challenging and original story that deals with death, superstition, and control through fear. Taking place over the month of October in 1994, The Dancing Bones follows Beau King, the starting quarterback and hotshot of Milton Central High School. Beau starts to fall for Brittany Ally, but soon realizes something or someone is haunting her. Everyone else in Milton Valley seems to believe the deceased Kyle Edwards is responsible, but Beau doesn’t buy it and vows to figure out what exactly is going on.
In his search for answers, Beau teams up with Joseph Hobbes, a brilliant but shy sophomore. Joseph acts as the engine of reason, convincing Beau that what’s happening to Brittany has a reasonable explanation. But the deeper the boys trudge, the more it seems they were wrong. As it turns out, Brittany believes the Kyle story as much as anyone and gives herself up to a local cult in the hopes that they will help her connect with Kyle. When evidence suddenly emerges that Brittany may be in lethal danger, Beau must decide what he truly believes: the strict rationalism of Joseph or the possibility that Kyle really is returning.
The Sixth Sense meets The Hound of the Baskervilles, the screenplay explores how the forces of reason and superstition interact. While supernatural beliefs are often used to control and hurt others, science and reason aren’t always enough. Sometimes, there is more to the story than meets the eye.
Refuge & Prospect: A Novel
Directed by Johannes Goransson
For my thesis, I’ve written a novel—not a complete novel (I wish!), but a 70-page germ of one. Entitled Refuge & Prospect, it’s a work of metafiction in the sense that it contains two narratives, one of which reveals the artifice of the other. The frame story is the first-person account of a writer who travels to London to research the novel she’s working on. The embedded text is her finished manuscript, a melodramatic and highly stylized riff on the Victorian novel set in the foggy streets of Victorian London itself. As the twin stories progress, it becomes clear that they reflect and refract each other in mysterious ways, raising questions about the relationship between art and the artist and image and imagination.
I took on this project with several objectives in mind. First, I wanted to explore the concept of metafiction, which postmodern writer John Barth has defined as “a novel that imitates a novel rather than the real world.” Drawing on Barth’s definition, and on Jonathan Lethem’s defense of stylization and the experimental narrative in his book The Ecstasy of Influence, I’ve fashioned a novel where the style isn’t quite the subject, as in Joyce’s formulation of what fiction should be, but where the style lends weight, depth, and interest to the same. While the concept of metafiction is hardly a postmodern innovation—indeed, certain critics have traced the roots of the form back to The Epic of Gilgamesh itself—I’ve approached this project primarily from a postmodern standpoint, exploring the ways that metafiction can push the boundaries of style and genre as they’re conventionally understood. In essentially writing two novels—one a first-person narrative in the lyrical-realist mode, the other a stylized and experimental piece of historical fiction—I’ve sought to discover how different fictional modes can complement each other and how the juxtaposition and intermingling of different styles and voices can contribute to the mood, tone, and theme of a piece of writing. Finally, on a thematic level, I’ve engaged in the novel with ideas of art, imagination, travel, and historical consciousness.
Things in Confidence.
Directed by Valerie Sayers.
Things in Confidence is a portion of a novel that explores the conflict of developing an autonomous identity while also understanding other perspectives. Through the experience of Bianca, the adolescent narrator, the piece raises questions about our ability to truly understand others and ourselves at the same time. Bianca, who believes she has the ability to know what others are thinking, often disappears in the thoughts of people she encounters and so struggles to define herself as an individual. As she narrates other people’s experiences and thoughts, she also introduces questions about the construction of memory as story, the difference between fictive and factual truth, and philosophies of what it means to die.
Formally, Bianca’s struggle manifests itself in the development of voice and point-of-view in the narration. Bianca shifts from an introspective first-person narrative into an omniscient third-person, occasionally referring to herself from an outside perspective as she further loses her sense of self. The third-person narration, while apparently distinct from the first-person narration, is still filtered through Bianca, though she does not identify herself or appear to be present. The narration is also conscious of an audience and directs the story to an ambiguous “you,” whom Bianca alternatively identifies as an imagined listener, her deceased older sister, or herself.
Through Bianca’s identity crisis and the shifts in narrative voice, the piece explores the narrator’s role in fiction. In literature, narrators or speakers are often able to understand or empathize with other perspectives while still remaining grounded in their own beliefs and sense of self. Characters, and the authors who create them, seem to enter into the perspective of other people through narrative and imagination while still clearly maintaining their own point-of-view. In reality, however, the tension between self and other is more ambiguous, particularly in adolescence. Bianca confides in the reader her struggle as she chooses whether to live with this tension, shut herself away in her own mind, or purposefully lose herself in other people’s thoughts.
Notes and Corrigenda
Directed by Johannes Goransson
My project is the supposed “notebook” of a fictional college student too distracted and world weary to organize his creative energies in the form of a novel, short story, or cycle of poems. The result: the student’s notebook is obsessive, neurotic, and expansive. On a formal level, the notebook includes pieces of an unfinished novel, prose poems, short, one-stanza poems, and entries that can be called nothing other than “notes.” If one were forced to, one might organize the notebook’s contents around the following raison: the struggle to confront one’s own personhood, unfiltered. In this struggle, the notebook’s author attempts to shake himself free of contemporary attitudes and conventions – things like individualism, social performativity, and irony for the sake of irony. He soon realizes, though, that he, like so many others, is afraid of what lies beneath such affectations: an evident inability to communicate, to express oneself, with raw, unflinching sincerity. Many of these issues and ideas, of course, are not firstly my own; in its spirit, Notes and Corrigenda is a response to the essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and US Fiction,” by David Foster Wallace. My other influences and inspirations include: Ben Lerner, Frank O’Hara, and the early work of WH Auden.
Directed by William O’Rourke
The Victorian novel and the Victorian big house rose together in historical prominence, and their ascent was entangled and messy. The bourgeois domestic became the thing of stories, the household became the site of identity and history and nation, and words like structure, style, content came to apply to as much to fiction as to architecture. Houses became one of the most common ordering principles. We read homes for signs of class and taste and lifestyle. They provide a space for memory, they stand for characters’ interior psyches or the characters themselves. We inscribe ourselves upon the material of our homes and our homes inscribe themselves onto the material of us. The walls do speak in house novels when the material of the home and the material of fiction become one in the same.
From that cabin on Walden pond to Gatsby’s silly façade of a mansion to Faulkner’s decaying southern plantation homes, the American literary terrain is dotted with great houses and I wrote into that tradition, attempting to navigate between that intrinsically American need to roam and to wander and that ultimate desire for roots and stability and history. When my mother tells stories, she’ll oscillate through decades like she is giving a tour of a house with no walls: her grandfather shooting groundhogs on the porch, her great-grandmother boiling down jam in the kitchen, her mother playing Super Nintendo with me in the back bedroom. I wanted to write fiction with that kind of whirligig prose.
My protagonist, a queer twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for woodcarving and self-indulgent reverie, navigates the topography of his old frontier mountain home. He visits one room per chapter, awakening seven generations of memories written in the very architecture of the house, spinning myths of childhood and generations gone and mourning a heritage that presses its weight against his lonely, celibate lifestyle. The form destabilizes silly notions of chronology and genealogy, and explodes family history with the chaotic, unknowable force of the queer, memories coming to rest in the beautiful mess that can only to be found among an oversaturated past and the violent political battleground that is the home.