Every Day Fiction has a great story up today. Robert Swartwood’s “Incomplete” is particularly interesting to me because of the ominous mood it creates. Written in a series of eight very short chapters, it wastes no time creating suspense:
The men without faces came for his father just after dinnertime. There were two of them. They broke down the apartment door and stormed inside. His mother screamed, dropped her glass. It shattered on the floor. His father tried to fight the men but the men were very strong. They grabbed his father’s arms and legs and carried him away. His father kept shouting that he didn’t have their money. Then his father was gone, the door was slammed shut, and his mother was collapsed on the kitchen floor. She stared up at him, tears in her eyes, the shards of broken glass surrounding her, sparkling like diamonds.
What I like most about the story is that the opening sets me off balance and the story keeps me that way. The first line leaves me uncertain whether the men who come for the narrator’s father are monstrous or simply masked men being perceived as faceless. The possibility of the supernatural hovers at the edges of the story. I think that, ultimately, there is no supernatural element, but that possibility affects the mood and highlights the powerlessness of the narrator and his family. I love that the story is surreal yet stays very grounded in solid detail. I have no trouble following what’s happening, or interpreting the images that the narrator sees. I do, however, feel with the narrator the sense of confusion and uncertainty about the nature of the forces in the world.
I can also say that the story rings true to me. When I was very young, my father was arrested–though not with the degree of violence described in this story, thank God. To me, the story’s sense of the overwhelming supernatural accurately reflects the way that real experience felt. That says to me that the author has carefully considered the probable reactions that his narrator, a child, would have to the situation.
Good stories often connect me to a personal experience of my own–not that the details have to be the same at all. I think it’s simply that a good story points to a certain area of human experience (i.e. the powerlessness of childhood), and, if it’s doing its job, kicks up an analogous response in the reader. Well done.