Point of View

I’ve been thinking about this story about the dog and the old man with cancer. I’ve outlined it briefly a few times, and the sticking point to me is the damn point of view. Let me run through an outline and see if I can identify where point of view becomes problematic.


A household at Thanksgiving. We’re seeing things through the eyes of the family dog. There are several people present – an old man on the living room couch, alone except for the dog sitting beside him, three adults at the dining room table, one is his son, another is his daughter, the third is his son’s wife. His daughter’s husband is also present; he’s in the kitchen doing dishes. There are also three children present, all in the living room playing a video game on the television. Dinner is over and people are relaxing. The adults are all conversing about various topics. The daughter’s husband is separated from the conversation by being in the kitchen, but is still engaged and participating. The old man is separated by being in the living room, but he is not part of the conversation. The dog can smell the old man’s colon cancer. No one else seems to know about it. It is remarked upon that the dog is spending the evening sitting with grandpa, but to the dog this is natural because it is good to spend time with people who will soon be dead. The old man slips into a reverie. The point of view switches to the old man so we can see his narrative from his eyes. His story is one of loss and regret. The immediate story is taking place at Thanksgiving in the year 2000, so his reverie is of a time prior to that. The old man has been divorced since 1970. His son is 41 and his daughter is 38. He is 69. When the old man’s reverie concludes, we return to the Thanksgiving setting and the dog’s point of view. The dog has a reverie of his own, thinking of his brother now dead and how he has no regrets about it. The juxtaposition is that the old man has a life of loss and regret while the dog has a life of loss without regret. The gathering concludes and the old man is to be driven back to his retirement home. There is a mild argument about who has to drive him home, quickly resolved. The dog watches him leave. At the old man’s retirement home, he says good-bye to his son and goes to his apartment. It’s dark and small. He picks up a letter from his kitchen table and considers whether he should tell anyone he has cancer.


So obviously I need to figure out what the old man’s reverie is. Now that I’ve outlined it again, it doesn’t seem insurmountable. But still… I don’t know. We’re in the dog’s point of view… then we switch to the old man for his reverie… then we come out of that into the dog’s view again… the we end with the old man. The problem I see here is with the old man’s reverie. How do I show the regret he feels? Let’s say his story is about something prior to his divorce. Then I would need to show regret in the present, since it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for him to regret his actions before his divorce. So the story takes place after his divorce when he’s experiencing regret… ahhhhh! I’m not liking this. In fact, I think I should start by writing the old man’s reverie, and if I can’t make it work then fuck this story. What troubles me is that I could write a story from the old man’s life and allude to his regret back in the present, but I can’t because we’re in the dog’s point of view back in the present. So that’s the thing – either I can build the sense of regret into the past story, or else I have to stick with the old man’s point of view after his reverie ends.


more… thought… required…


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