SHORT STORY | FICTION | LITERATURE
A NOTE by John Northcutt Young
RATING: ★ ★ ★
Some people should die
That’s just unconscious knowledge
– Jane’s Addiction
It is hard for me to imagine anyone past the age of puberty who has not contemplated suicide. I don’t mean actually contemplating committing suicide — although less hard, it is still kind of hard for me to imagine anyone who has lived a life of even the most minimal engagement to have not had at least one life crisis serious enough to trigger contemplation of even this most extreme act — but just suicide in general. If, hypothetically speaking, one were going to commit suicide, what would be the best way to perform the act? That is what I mean by contemplating suicide. Contemplating the art of suicide, so to speak.
And, with his short story A NOTE, that is exactly what author John Northcutt Young does. He forces us to contemplate suicide, and in a most uncomfortable and burdensome manner, by taking us deep into the mind of someone preparing himself for the final act of committing suicide.
And he does this, not just by forcing us into the mind of the narrator as a casual observer, he shoves us directly into the story itself, as a participating character, by having us assume the most unpleasant role of “Whomever,” the unknown recipient to whom the narrator of the story is addressing his suicide note, a note that he is just beginning to pen when the story itself begins.
But we quickly learn that it is not going to be an easy note to write. And this is not just because of the obvious reasons. Penning one’s final farewell message must surely be difficult for even the most accomplished in life. Right now you may be thinking that that last sentence is ridiculous. If one is so accomplished in life then there would be no reason for one to even contemplate suicide, let alone actually commit it. My response to that is, the statement may be highly ironic perhaps, but ridiculous, certainly not. All we have to do is take even the most cursory of glances at recent headlines to see that yes, indeed, even the most accomplished — and I almost want say here, especially the most accomplished — find cause to put a suicidal end their living existence.
However, with this story, we find that the one penning the note is far from having led an accomplished life; in fact, as he sees it, he has led, perhaps, a life the least accomplished of all. And if it holds true that penning a suicide note would prove difficult for the most accomplished, we are about to find out just how exceedingly difficult it is for the least.
By his own account the narrator is a loser. He is unaccomplished at everything, especially his life goal, a life-long ambition to be a successful writer. Or is it an author. He is not sure which he should call himself. This indecision is typical, endemic even, of his character. We learn in the most repetitive, and somewhat distracting, way that the narrator has difficulty making even the most mundane of decisions, and those decisions that he does make, ultimately end in failure.
But his biggest failure, and even bigger regret, is that of failing as a writer. And here is where I have the biggest breakdown with the story.
The story is narrated in a near stream of consciousness voice. The narrator, finally having made the decision to end his life, is now free from having to worry about all the grammar and linguistic challenges writing entails. This freedom also seems to have impacted negatively the way his internal voice, his stream of consciousness voice, is spoken. The voice of the narrator sounds overly immature and whiny, which may be excused considering what he has put himself on the path to do, but this voice doesn’t speak true to me. I cannot imagine that anyone as close to committing suicide as our narrator is, would sound so petty and immature.
Near the end we learn that his suicide note is soggy from his tears. However, up to that point, I never felt once that the narrator had shed even the slightest tear. It was, unfortunately, one rather long, annoying whine, poor grammar and all.
But what does a critique like that mean really? My answer is, nothing.
How could I possibly know how others would speak to themselves internally, and not just for something as terrifying and dramatic as the internal processing of the final movement toward ending one’s life, but for anything, really? I can’t. The only voice I can ever know, the only voice I can ever truly critique, is the sound of my own voice. And I hope I never have to hear what it would sound like during such a heartbreaking situation as the narrator is experiencing.
My problem with the narrator’s voice and the negative impact I find that it has on the overall tone and success of the story, has to be more my problem, a problem of taste, and not the story’s.
Overall, and most importantly, the story works in achieving what is perhaps its truest and biggest mission, and that, to me is, the act of awareness. Whether we like the story or not, by its end we definitely become more aware, through Young’s insistence on forcing us into a deep, uncomfortable contemplative mind journey, of what it just may be like for one poor, desperate soul of a loser as he prepares himself for what perhaps is his final act alive.
And that, to me, is something worthy of serious and deep contemplation.