Pamelyn Casto, Contributing Editor for Flash Discourse
A Close Reading of Molly Giles’
“The Writers’ Model”
The story can be read in Molly Giles’ collection Creek Walk and Other Stories.
The story can also be read in Sudden Fiction (Continued): 60 New Short-Short Stories, edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas.
The humorous opening words and the wonderful tone and voice lured me right into Molly Giles’ net of flash fiction. What I appreciate and admire most about the three-page story is Giles’ humorous use of stereotypical characters, a clichéd setting, and stock props throughout. I also appreciate the way Giles finally turns the story around on itself so that the story provides an outstanding example of an effective twist ending. The ending is not a twist ending like the simple “gotcha” endings of some of O. Henry’s commercial writings, the types of twist sometimes shown in his “shaggy dog” pieces. The twist ending provided by Giles is a much more complicated and literary twist ending. A reader has to be willing to give thought to what the ending might mean to feel the full impact of this humorous meta-fiction.
The nameless narrator of this voice-driven story accepts a temporary job where she hopes she will be able to make a contribution to literature by allowing a group of writers to study her. She takes on the job and arrives in what she says is a “bad part of town.” The room she steps into is a stereotypical interrogation room–a dark room with a single bulb over an empty chair where the narrator will be questioned by men sitting in a circle around her. The setting suggests there will be some serious studying and grilling taking place.
In addition to the stereotypical interrogation room, Giles also gives us stereotypical male writers who are most interested in the narrator’s body. And of course, the writers are the stereotypes of what writers should look like: all men wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, horn-rimmed glasses, pipes, and who even have Irish setters at their feet. Giles provides some fine material and humor in her use of stereotypes and stock characters.
The “adventurous girl” realizes she is an object to these men, calls herself an “objet d’art,” and disrobes when asked. The narrator claims that although these men were involved with women, none of them had ever actually talked to one.
The men proceed to ask her physical questions–like does she jiggle when she runs, does size really matter, and what does orgasm feel like? They are fascinated with breasts but didn’t want to hear about nursing, menstruation, or childbirth. One question that made them all hold their breaths was “Do you read?” It is as if they are interviewing and observing a creature from another planet. (At this spot Giles also gives her readers a quiet and humorous foreshadowing of the ending scene.)
The writers smell her “feminine” perfume, accompany her to the restroom, talk of writer’s block, and bring costumes for her to try on–a snake suit, nurses’ uniforms, a frilled gingham apron–all stereotypical emblems of women. They interrogate her on “women’s roles”– such as posing with a whip, fighting with a lover, pretending to go crazy, and on writing suicide notes.
When the narrator gets “Free Time” to talk about what she wants to talk about, the writers show various ways of not being interested. They yawn, doodle, and some even get up and leave, taking their Irish setters with them. The narrator admits she is tempted to make some things up to hold their attention but fears if she did that, she would turn into a writer herself.
At the interview she herself grows tired of the questions, especially the ones about her underpants, so decides to quit before she became what they saw. After she quits the interview she takes on various odd jobs– is especially drawn to odd jobs.
Looking back she sees the men as lonely and ignorant but educable. In reading their books she discovers the women in them were depicted as women had always been depicted: as saints, sluts, and psychotics. The narrator wonders how she failed to get through to them.
She then claims that the previous night she saw a space ship land in her backyard. The little man who came out of the space ship had a domed forehead and a “hard hurt stare.” Like the male writers in the story, this Martian also intended to study her. The narrator then picks up her shotgun and runs him off saying “Some things can’t be studied… and there’s no one like me.”
What is particularly amusing about the ending is the depiction of the stereotypical Martian (with the stereotypical small stature and domed forehead). So the narrator is as guilty of using stereotypes, stock characters, and clichéd props, as are the male writers who wanted to study her. Fine ironies abound in this little story. It is a wonderful romp which also manages to lead a reader beyond its humor and surface story to get a reader to question his or her own habitual stereotyping of writers, of men and women–or of Martians.
About the writer:
Pam Casto, a Pushcart Prize nominee, has published feature-length articles on flash fiction in Writer’s Digest (and in their other publications), in Fiction Southeast, in Abstract Magazine, and in OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her essay on flash fiction and myth appears in Rose Metal Press’s Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips From Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field and her 8,000-word essay on flash fiction is included in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading (4 volumes). She also has a 5,000-word article on flash fiction as the lead article in the new collection titled Critical Insights: Flash Fiction (2017).
About Molly Giles:
Molly Giles is an American novelist and short-story writer. She is a professor at the University of Arkansas.
Image: “Finding Yourself” by Deaquan Bryant. Photograph. By permission. Bryant is an emerging fine art photographer from Atlanta, Georgia.