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January 29, 2008

A Few Thought About My Daughter's Short Story

In my previous post, I published a short story by my daughter Suri who is four. In this post, I’d like discuss that story.

For those of you who have not had a chance to read the story, here it is, reprinted in its entirety:

Once upon a time, nobody knowed what to do and they falled dead.

The end


I’d like to start with some positive thoughts I have about this work. First off, I appreciate the story’s structure. Unlike a lot of short stories by children, this one has characters, conflict, and resolution. The story’s protagonists (nobody) encounter a familiar problem (ennui), the result of which is tragic and predictable in its simplicity (death).

The story raises some interesting philosophical questions, not the least of which is the nod to Satre by naming the main character(s) “nobody.” With no activity, the characters are truly at an existential loss; predictably there is only one possible outcome.

The author also raises the ghost of Descartes (Cogito, ergo sum - “I think therefore I am”). With nothing to do, the characters are clearly incapable of even thought, therefore, to turn Descartes’ phrase on its head, they are not.

Locating the story in a nebulous “once upon a time” setting is also a fairly stark but illuminating choice. The time could be any time, and therefore the problem is one of universality. The winking “once upon a time” also upends the traditional fairy tale, upsetting the normal “morality play” construction and replacing it with a more contemporary, if nihilistic, worldview.

That’s the good news.

Setting aside the poor grammar for a moment, I see some areas where the story could be improved. The first thing that jumps out at me is the unnecessary and sophomoric “poo-poo” addendum. What purpose does this serve? It certainly does not seem to relate the rest of the story, adds nothing, and in fact detracts from the profound questions the author poses. Poo-poo, indeed.

Second, I would also lose the redundant “the end.” Once everybody in the story dies, adding “the end” seems purposeless; furthermore it closes off any additional room for discovery. By forcing the issue, “the end” negates the reader’s ability to discern for herself the question of finality in a radical existential thought experiment. Might the story be more powerful if it ended with “they all falled down dead?”

This critic and father definitely thinks so.


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This story is so final, double final since there is death and "the end." I wish it wasn't so there could be a sequel.


At least your 4 year old is into creative story telling. Mine won't shut up about fighting some rock guy on Super Mario Galaxy.
Did you write your critique in red pen and tell her you expect better next time? ;)


That was deeply moving. Is she going to be preparing a speech for the literary award she is assuredly going to win?


Michael Ian Barack


I think I'm going to write my research paper on the story by your daughter, Suri (4), and your subsequent critique of it.


Had I written something this profound at 4 years of age, maybe my parents wouldn't have sent me to the Shame Closet so much.


This made me laugh hard. And all those Foxy Brown big words? Made me feel just like Gomez. "Trish..that's French..."

Better cover that neck.


Sartre's "L'enfer, c'est les autres" (Hell is other people) could be my motto, but your writing makes it possible to believe there are actually people out there really worth wanting to know. Thanks for this little critique. A delightful read.

And I think the poo poo at the end was a perfect homage to "Daddy's work".

monk fish mcgraw



Please. Talk about trite. That was the most pompous, self-indulgent piece of dog shit I've read since The Corrections. Hellooooooo Oprah Book Club. My guess would be that no more than half of it is built on personal experiences at all.


So you and Tom Cruise both have daughters named Suri. That's kind of funny.


Telly, your comment doesn't even make sense. It was a funny blog. That was it. Why so much anger, dear?


The end of everything is pretty much 'poo poo' whichever way you cut it. The kid's got insight.


(sisyphus) come on, literary theory always needs critics, or it wouldn't be what it is - i thoroughly enjoyed Telly's comment and hope for more sarcastic criticism in the future.

note: Suri's depersonalization of the character is of main importance to the story, emphasized by the lower case "nobody" vs. "Nobody" leading reader to ponder the connotation of this metaphorical character (singular? plural? is this a reference to our social culture stuck inside of a microwave/tv/computer?)
Again, the lower-case similarly pointing to the further unimportance of the 'nobody' (which is actually conflict in itself, to attract yet distract) by detracting attention similar to bell hooks' message of importance not in name, but in content.

nihilistic, yes, but blunt and honest.

...all the world is a fucking stage


I think another interesting linguistic decision here lies in the author's perversion of language in which she alters the verb form as a reflection of the character(s) ultimate existential dilemma. She has invented a unique preterite past tense form, or simple past participle, versus the accepted irregular past tense which forces the language to be both present and past. This ties into Michael's insight regarding universality, in that this is indeed a time that could be any time, as evidenced not only by the innocuous and enigmatic "once upon A time," (emphasis added), but by it's innovative grammar. The verbs are present and past: know + -ed. The story is now and then: fall + -ed. It is a linguistic temporal paradox that intimately mirrors the theme of conflict in the story.

Although, I submit, is this a tale of ennui and nothingness? Is it that the protagonist(s) were left "[w]ith no activity" and "nothing to do," or is it rather that the character(s) knows precisely what to do given her/his knowledge. Perhaps nobody does know what to do. The only choice: fall down dead.

The End.



I stand amazed.


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