I want to share with you a very personal yet truly illuminating experience. Today, I received an email from my son, whose own son, Axl, is surpassing his grandfather with ease. It read:
It’s a simple tale that touches on a variety of themes, innocence, violence, hunger, parental devotion and, without giving away the ‘ending’, murder.
Of course, as with many of his works, there is a subtext. It skilfully deals with sensitive issues of religion and, for me, reading between the lines, its conclusion surmises that there is no afterlife and, controversially at this time of year, absolutely no possibility of resurrection. The author leaves one in no doubt of his view on this final point. It’s a real page turner.
He’d attached the story, formatted as a four page book. Here it is:
The 3 Chickens and Fox
By Axl Kirton
When it was morning Tru, Pat and Coter decided to go to the playground.
At the playground there was a fierce fox. He was called Plat.
The fox said to Tru, Pat and Coter, ‘do you want to eat in my house?’.
‘Yes’, they replied.
When they finished their lunch it was getting late. The fox said ‘I will eat you’ to them.
Tru, Coter and Pat yelled to mum and dad. They ran home and dad killed the fox.
HE WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN
(All the formatting, including the upper case at the end, is Axl’s.)
Then, grabbing the excuse of a unique displacement opportunity and being totally self-indulgent, I started to write a quick answering email which I began to enjoy so much that I let it grow out of all proportion into the following excrescence:
A true page-turner indeed, structurally reminiscent (with its clipped, spare sentences) of the early Hemingway or later Beckett.
I agree completely with your analysis. You mention the tale’s ‘simplicity’ and thematic layerings, which do indeed bring an edgy tension into the narrative, but the real source of the existential anxiety which grips the reader is the underlying metaphysical angst which you apprehended so perceptively.
The importance and inevitability of temporality is established in the opening phrase and the time pressure drives relentlessly onwards. Near the end, there comes the menace implicit in ‘it was getting late’, and then we experience the devastatingly abrupt and unquestionably terminal upper case conclusion. Flowing through these points on the time-space continuum, the tale develops without ever acquiring the psychological density and structure of a conventional story. Of the enigmatic Coter, Pat and Tru (the latter so cunningly named to hint at the tale’s underlying veracity), we know nothing. Their idiosyncratic names are worthy of Beckettian archetypes and, like his characters, their back stories are unknown and their relationships unspecified and fluid. They are entities (in fact, chickens), which can only be given substance through their actions, and the only evidence of actions we get from them relate to hunger and fear. It’s the most complete allegory of the human (and chicken) condition I’ve ever read.
Baptising the fox Plat is a masterstroke at so many levels. At its simplest, being derived from the French word for ‘flat’, it confirms the character’s two-dimensionality, challenges novelistic conventions and, in the dynamic implicit between it and the name ‘Tru’, questions the whole notion of reality. Indeed, placing a character named Tru in a fiction is a direct challenge to our perceptions of the world. They contradict and cancel one another to leave us with … nothing, the void.
Next, there’s the near parallel between Plat the fox and Pat, one of the chickens, the only difference being the addition of ‘l’ which, when spoken aloud, gives us ‘Hell’, so we can add Sartre to the pantheon the story apes and reflects.
And, as a final cryptic association, if we take his void, his zero, and add it to his name, we have Plato, whose rejection of the ‘real’ (or ‘Tru’?) world is well documented. What richness in a name of just four letters!
The final twist is worthy of Edgar Allen Poe himself. Having brought his protagonists to the brink of destruction, mere nutritional items destined to be consumed by Plat (i.e. to be re-absorbed into ‘flatness’), they yell to the shadowy parental figures, run home, and the ‘flatness’ is peremptorily eliminated, thereby setting the stage for the traditional ‘and they lived happily ever after’. But this author has no intention of offering such a false vision. He prefers to confirm the absolute, comprehensive victory of nothingness.
HE WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN
If any of you have other readings or insights to offer, they will be gratefully received.