Telling the New Year and Jeannette Wall’s failures in The Silver Star

I remember reading Wall’s Half Broke Horses one sunny afternoon when I lived on the Schooner Shenandoah. Below deck, on my bottom bunk, an upwards-facing porthole that would leak salty water when we tacked too far provided me with enough natural light to dot on Wall’s words. I loved the book, reading it practically in one sitting— not running on deck when the mates above me were screaming that this was the best sail of the season. And I’m not sure if I’ve read her other novel The Glass Castle but I know I’ve talked about the plot with my mother. Regardless I had this positive picture of Jeannette Walls and her storytelling, so when I was gifted The Silver Star for Christmas, I was humbly optimistic. 

Before the ball dropped and the New Year of 2022 replaced old calendars with a hard-to-remember “21,” I finished reading the novel. After countless nonfiction books, I had been reading for school or my more theory-based writing, I was astounded with how fast fiction can be examined in my mind. In a way, that was a very freeing feeling. Yet this novel was somewhat of a disappointment. Nowhere near to the brilliance of her others, I found this story to be a failed attempt at telling a vernacular story of childhood. While there were no letters or documents, this book or any book written from the perspective of a child (in my opinion) had somewhat of an epistolary-novel style. As someone who too has explored the power in writing narratives from the unique perspective of juvenility, in my short story “Dear Jake,” and in my childhood-lit classes that looked at Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, the Brontë sisters, and works from African-American literature on childhood, I guess you could say I’m somewhat of a snob on the subject. I’m picky about what works and doesn’t, where the genre can get complacent and sketchy. I do not know if Wall struggled because this was not an autobiography of herself or someone in her family, because it is not my job to determine the trueness or fictionality of this story. Regardless, Wall gets lost in her narrative, and although the reader hopes for Bean and her family throughout the whole story, it is not a perfect narrative by any means.

How do we tell stories like this one? How do we tell the new year? I found myself asking these questions after I finished Wall’s novel while the ball dropped in Times Square. Yeah, I have my criticism of Wall’s work but how are my tales any better? How do I not only write more fulfilling and true stories of not only childhood but of the future? So as I sit here, early on in the grid-like checkboxes that exist in our calendar-based systems— I challenge myself to do better. I challenge myself to write stories that are un-fallacious and good. If I am going to write about the Beans in my life I better tell it. The responsibility that comes in storytelling is great and oftentimes not questioned. We challenge journalists and documentaries but how often do we challenge the premise of fictitious stories. It is up to us as writers, to write true stories regardless of fiction or nonfiction boundaries, to write real stories. Stories, dreams, spaces— they deserve to be conveyed in tales of truth. So while Wall’s story was good, it also deserves more. 
I promise to tell the New Year, or any story, with the utmost respect. That is my New Year’s Resolution. Cheers to over a year of truth telling on this blog and here is to many years more.

Published by ellakotsen

student at Bryn Mawr College

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