Short story: “Movement”

by look i have opinions

“Movement,” by Nancy Fulda

First appeared in Asimov’s in March 2011 (PDF here); read in episode 314 of Escape Pod on October 13, 2011 (read and listen here); nominated for the 2012 Hugo

3,896 words

Interesting. The plot reminds me of some other things I’ve read lately, but it’s a classic plot that has a lot of life in it yet, plus I really like seeing how contemporary fiction portrays autism-like conditions. I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I expected, though, for a bunch of reasons.

First, I have problems with the narrator’s voice. She avoids contractions most of the time. After several consecutive I ams and It is not fairs and I do not knows, it gets hokey. The stilted language doesn’t convey any underlying humor, the way it does in (for example) True Grit. It’s just a device for making Hannah seem alien, mystical, and perhaps more innocent. (I’ve been known to use this device unconsciously. I’ll take this story as a cautionary example.)

First-person fiction usually demands some suspension of disbelief, especially in present tense; we have to accept that a character who’s not a writer can be an excellent narrator. That’s okay, but it gets a bit strained when the character is someone who struggles with verbal communication. We have to assume either that Hannah thinks more or less in words, or that the narrative voice is somehow a translation of Hannah’s nonverbal thinking. For me, that requires too much mental contortion. I don’t understand why the author chose first person instead of close third.

The main problem, though, is that I don’t feel any suspense about Hannah’s fate. Early in the story, it’s obvious that she’s going to reject the treatment, even if she doesn’t know it yet. She values the life she has; she has very little attraction to “normal” life and regards it with disdain. The story rehashes this point with metaphor after metaphor. At the very end, what Hannah manages to tell her mother is fascinatingly ambiguous, but I can’t see much danger of her being treated against her wishes.

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