No Objections to Objective Correlatives

Pernille AEgidius Dake

The following is a guest post by Pernille AEgidius Dake, whose short story “Where I Sit” appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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‘The book is used as an effective objective correlative’ wrote my teacher on a copy of my story now titled ‘Where I Sit.’ Notes from a prior fiction workshop reminded me that an objective correlative defines a particular emotion out of an object, situation, or (chain of) events and then re-evokes the sentiment somewhere else in the story. These were not facts I recalled even subconsciously, I think. The application of Adam Haslett’s novel in my short story was dumb luck; I thought I was experimenting with metaphor.

In Imagine Me Gone, a work of fiction by Adam Haslett, two family members out of five lose out to their battle with depression and commit suicide, leaving the two surviving siblings and the mother to reconcile with the pain. They overcome their grief tenaciously and hauntingly so.

Still, the title led me to imagine a more common, and in most cases, more mellow departure: a breakup. Splits won’t fully take until the breakee gets past being jilted. The (kind) wish of the breaker, or narrator, to not only be gone—but to be forgotten—is expressed in the novel’s title. In the opening of my story, the narrator reads Imagine Me Gone, then the book is also reopened in the end—adding a symbolic play with how the fictitious family suffers real pain, not the narrator. The opportunity to play with the book’s spine and the narrator leaning her back against the bench’s backrest was a bonus.

The support (pardon the pun) of an objective correlative struck me like I’d been given free limitless rides to an amusement park’s bumper cars. The writerly craft gave the story a reference, a definition, like the lip of the floor where the cars race, and within that perimeter, I could spin about and hit everything in sight (many drafts were true bouncing-around-rides with word counts to rival rush hour in Beijing). The Imagine Me Gone-sensibility framed the story and made it easier—I should say safer—to explore: to envision how my two protagonists had loved and squandered, mostly squandered, and misunderstood not just each other, but…. Always will there be misreads: when did who really stray in what parts of the relationship? It comes naturally and seems customary to blame the breaker for all the pain that went before; the last break calls out and sums up all the misery that can rip through a couple’s time together, shakily and deafening.

It’s impossible to hear who’s truly to blame—that relies wholly on perspective! The objective correlative made it easier to make both characters ambiguous, then anchor them to the bench.

Thank you to Typehouse for not benching this story.

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Danish-born Pernille AEgidius Dake was a finalist for Glimmer Train Press 2014 New Writer Award as well as december’s 2015 Curt Johnson Prose Award and has been published in Skirt!, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Glassworks Magazine, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Dime Show Review, and elsewhere. She is an MFA Candidate in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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