Book blooper: the impossible narrator

In the movie, “The Social Network” when Eduardo flies to California to see Mark, he arrives soaking wet from standing outside in the rain, his hair in disarray with his bangs down on his forehead. He and Mark then go speak privately, and in a camera cut, Eduardo’s hair is suddenly styled, the bangs being parted to one side. This kind of impossible transition is what aficionados of film bloopers relish.

There are similar impossibilities in books: book bloopers. An example is the shifting narration in Abraham Verghese’s CUTTING FOR STONE. We don’t mean to pick on Verghese; this is the second blog in a row about his book. But this book has been on the bestseller for many, many weeks demonstrating that book bloopers, like film bloopers, are invisible to the vast majority of the audience.

CFS is written from the first person perspective of a character called Marion Stone, who at the age of fifty decides to write his autobiography “to render some order to the events of my life.” Good plan. Stone is half of a set of conjoined twins and the story is largely concerned with their bonds and divisions. The problem is that Stone as a cognizant person doesn’t really appear in the book between the pages of 14 and 183. Up until then, the story is about events preceding and surrounding his birth, events of which he has no first-hand knowledge.

Verghese opts to have Stone relate these events in a third-person omniscient kind of way. Somehow able to get into the heads of his parents, his foster parents and other characters, Stone seems to know things about them it is impossible for him to know and at a level of detail that would be impossible to collect.

Here for example is a passage in which Stone’s mother is described nursing his father who is in a fever:
He babbled about green fields and was unaware of her presence. Could seasickness be fatal, she wondered. Or could he have a forme frusta of the fever that afflicted Sister Anjali? There was so much she did not know about medicine. In the middle of the ocean, surrounded by the sick, she felt the weight of her ignorance.
“But she knew how to nurse and she knew how to pray. So, praying, she eased off his shirt which was stiff with bile and spit, and she slid down his shorts.”

The only person who could have told Stone about this event was unconscious. Thus, he has to be making it up, not so much relating his own story as inventing his mother’s – blurring the lines between Stone-the-autobiographical-writer and Verghese-the-fiction-writer.

This does not seem to interfere with the all-important story. The book club loved, loved, loved this book. It is a blooper, just like Dorothy walking along the pig pen fence at the beginning of “The Wizard of Oz.” She falls into the mud, yet when the Bert Lahr character helps her out of there, her dress is perfectly clean.