Daniel John Tharp, Pittsburg State University


Home is a collection of four short stories that deal with protagonists who struggle with isolation and who struggle with finding a place where they belong. The first story, “Tip-Ups,” is about two cousins, Roger and Billy, who go ice fishing, and discover growing up is not easy nor simple. The second story, “The Great Chicken Experiment,” is told through the eyes of twenty-one-year-old Adam Jones, who, when the story starts off, is standing next to his best friend’s ashes in a box. Throughout the story, Adam struggles with finding his own identity and purpose, and through his experiences and thoughts, this story examines how a generation without a Great War can feel the same kinds of isolation as the generations before. In the third story, “Trophies,” the protagonist struggles with understanding that he killed his father, and he struggles with his failed attempts to gain his father’s approval. The last story, “Home,” has two protagonists, Betty and Nolan. They were in love when they were young, but the narrative takes place in the present, when both Betty and Nolan are in their seventies. Although they might be each other’s true loves, time and experience has changed them both, and sometimes memories aren’t enough. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner describes one method of writing as “jazzing around.” Both “Home” and “Trophies” subscribe to Gardner’s definition of deconstruction, in that they “tell stories from the other side or from some queer angle that casts doubt on the generally accepted values handed down…” In “Home” this can be seen in the jumping narrative. Because the reader gets inside the heads of both Betty and Nolan, the reader can empathize with both more than if the story was told strictly from a close third-person point of view. The ending of “Trophies” jazzes around because of understated emotions. When something terrible happens, it often takes the mind time to process the event, and because this story is first-person, I wanted to defamiliarize certain emotions to emulate how the mind works. Through the process of writing my thesis and revising these stories I came to the realization that “jazzing around” is not what made my stories good but the deft execution of traditional elements, such as stories driven by dynamic characters and dialogue that charges stories with torque and subtext. No better example of dialogue exists than in Earnest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” The dialogue between the American and the Girl carries not only the plot, but every other element of fiction as well: tone, setting, and time. Hemingway does this using his iceberg-theory. I attempted to emulate Hemingway’s dialogue and use it as a key element in what makes all of the stories in my thesis successful. In truth, the first story of my thesis, “Tip-Ups,” consists of three stories. It began with a story about insurance, where a young man named Roger hated his job and ended up killing a rat next to a dumpster. The second story had the same protagonist, but was about how Roger really wanted to be a biology major, and his father wanted to him to go into the insurance business. The third story is the story that ended up in my thesis. While writing the final draft of this story, I was also rereading Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants,” and it struck me that “Tip-Ups” needed to be written using the ice-berg theory, untold tension and plot bubbling beneath the surface of the text, and dialogue that penetrated both Billy and Roger to their cores. Neither Hemingway, nor Carver, nor any instructor can tell you how to write a story like this. All they can do is tell you when works. What I discovered was that I had to experience with my characters what they weren’t going to say or do on the page before I was able to write what they were going to say or do.

All of the following stories explore the concepts of character motivation and the complexity of representing the convoluted thought process of dynamic characters. All of the protagonists in this thesis exist in worlds they are at odds with, worlds they do not fully feel a part of. This drives them not only to try to better understand the world they live in, but also drives them to try to better understand themselves. In the first three stories the protagonists struggle with masculinity, what it means to become a man. I believe that because there is such a direct attention to masculinity, that the issue becomes universal. What it means to be a man becomes what it means to be human. While this may not align with feminist theory, “Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird: The Psychic Origins of Poetic Form,” by Donald Hall states, “A poem is human inside talking to human inside.” I would like to think that my stories do the same, and that even though they talk about masculinity, they talk from human inside to human inside.