In the Misconceived History story in “A Public Denial” by Allan Gurganus (published in the anthology Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories) the narrator attempts to restore his deceased grandfather’s dignity by challenging rumors that his grandfather’s death was the result of his own foolhardiness.
The story opens with this line:
Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, my grandfather did not die driving a Toyota across his pond.
The story resembles a persuasive essay; the narrator uses transition words such as “despite,” “while,” “admittedly,” and “evidently” to compose his argument. What I love about the story is how Gurganus uses no emotion to tell it, just the facts, yet it still carries an emotional impact. For a story that spans only two pages, I find this remarkable.
The truth is, the grandfather did drive a Toyota across his pond, an experiment to prove what he’d read in an owner’s manual: that Toyota produces the most watertight cars. The story challenges cause and effect. Though the grandfather died shortly after (right after, in fact), how he died is both the evidence that attempts to solve the crux of the public’s misconception and the testimony that is entirely irrelevant. The point is the experiment was successful.
In the final paragraph, the conclusion of the argument, the emotional impact of the story culminates with this line:
Though the ‘pond-drive’ photographs proved inconclusive (exhaust fumes, of the sky, etc.), we still have the witnesses’ spoken accounts. In short, the man died having proved something which is more than most of us can say.
In the end, it is still hearsay that supports the narrator’s statement about his grandfather, and that is the moving irony. While the story is told in a matter-of-fact way, the language does not come across as dry. It is through Gurganus’s presentation of face-value details that he is able to manipulate the many facets of truth and tell a poignant story about a grieving family honoring the memory of their courageous and devoted grandfather.
WRITING EXERCISE: Write a piece that revolves around a character taking part in a piece of history. The “history” could be fictional. It can be small, such as the local history of the grandfather’s pond-drive, or larger.
Next, have a character reveal how it really went down. They should seek to disprove a misconception. It can be the same character or a new character. Tell the story with “facts” instead of emotions. The story does not necessarily have to conform to the persuasive essay style of Gurganus’s story; you might choose to have characters interacting in a setting.
The “true” history should be important to the character who is telling it, and this importance should be revealed to the reader as the argument unfolds. Try to persuade the reader they should believe your character.
Marisela Navarro is a writer and pharmacist in Boston. Her fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, Flash Fiction Funny, 100 Word Story, Matchbook, and Shelflife Magazine. She is currently earning an MFA in creative writing at Emerson College where she is working on a short story collection.
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