What Can We Steal From Kim Adrian’s “Last Cookies”?
Title of Work and its Form: “Last Cookies,” creative nonfiction
Author: Kim Adrian (On Twitter: K_Adrian)
Date of Work: 2013
Where the Work Can Be Found: The story made its debut in New World Writing‘s Winter 2013 issue. You can read the story here.
Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Point of View
Ms. Adrian’s short short story is told in the second person. “You” are coping with the impending loss of your aunt, a woman “you have always resembled.” You enjoy making her cookies and you realize that you will someday make her “last cookies,” though you don’t know when. Before long, it is too late. As the story ends, your aunt is off of solid food and no longer wants cookies. Instead, she is only interested in finding some measure of peace.
One reason Ms. Adrian’s story succeeds is that she had a great idea and latched onto it. “Last Cookies” is a particularly sad and potent little idea. We start eating cookies when we’re children and we down quite a few of them during the course of our lives. (Some more than others, of course.) But a “last cookie?” It’s a particularly sad concept. In a way, Ms. Adrian is borrowing from the toolbox of a poet, identifying a particularly potent idea and meditating upon it. Ms. Adrian’s story is not very long, so the power of the idea is not diluted.
Ms. Adrian lists “Last Cookies” on her web site under the category of “MEMOIR, LYRIC, and PERSONAL ESSAYS.” The fact that there is literal truth to the story (not just emotional truth) makes the point of view an interesting choice. What could it mean that Ms. Adrian is telling a true and personal story in second person? Well, the second person could make YOU more likely to enjoy what you have and to make some cookies for a loved one right now, while you can. With so much grief and sadness in the world—I guess I’m bummed out today—the second person cuts through the natural tendency to shy away from confronting the grief of others. Perhaps this is really Ms. Adrian’s aunt (if so, my condolences), but she has made the choice to tell you it is YOUR aunt to cut through that defensiveness. There’s another option: perhaps Ms. Adrian’s grief was so overwhelming that she had to put an emotional scrim between herself and the description of her aunt’s decline. Whatever the “correct” answer is, Ms. Adrian’s POV choice inspires a great deal of high-level thought: a worthwhile result.
What Should We Steal?
- Latch onto a powerful central idea or metaphor. The next time you’re jolted awake by a meaningful thought, jot it down and make it the star of your next poem or short story.
- Select the point of view that will invite your reader to think deeply and will you’re your emotional relationship with the material. If you need to switch to the third person to tell your own sad and traumatic story, go ahead. If you have a compelling fictional story in mind, adopt the first person in order to establish a closer relationship between narrator and reader.