Short Story

What Can We Steal From Jeff Moscaritolo’s “A Chance to Get Involved”?

Title of Work and its Form: “A Chance to Get Involved,” short story
Author: Jeff Moscaritolo
Date of Work: 2013
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The story can be found in the Spring 2013 issue of Carve, a lit journal that definitely deserves your attention.  (Buy the journal here.)  “A Chance to Get Involved” received an honorable mention in Carve‘s Esoteric Awards.

Bonus: Here is a story Mr. Moscaritolo published in Paper Darts.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Narrative Focus

“A Chance to Get Involved” is told in the second person.  You are dating a writer named Bess and your relationship was very strong in the beginning, but has soured.  Bess is very sad about the tsunami that has just ravaged the Japanese coast and has knocked out the nuclear power facility.  You are a schoolteacher who is friends with Chloe Olson, a beautiful young English teacher who is more focused on you than Bess seems to be.  You discover that Bess has taken off to Japan in an attempt to help; she calls you, but doesn’t know when she’ll be returning.  Why did she leave?  She doesn’t quite know for sure, either.  Like it or not, Chloe Olson is present and pleasant and even cares about people; you bond over the school’s food drive.  As the story ends, the reader doesn’t quite know what will happen in your story, but has a good idea.

Mr. Moscaritolo’s story relates to the theme of the Spring 2013 issue of Carve: disasters.  Lots of ink has justifiably been spilled in describing the actions of those who cleaned up after the tsunami.  Those stories are certainly important, but Mr. Moscaritolo offers a glimpse into the collateral damage caused by the event.  Now, I’ll happily admit that the Japanese victims who lived near the Fukushima Daiichi plant had it much worse than the second person narrator of the story.  There’s nothing wrong, however, with telling the stories of the many people across the world who were devastated in different ways.

In fact, Mr. Moscaritolo’s story is a good model for other kinds of work.  We’re all deeply saddened by the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and there are plenty of works in which the internees’ stories are told.  (And there’s now a musical starring George Takei!)  What about looking at such an event through the eyes of a different character who has a different perspective?  Gosh, I wonder what the guards thought each day as they contemplated what they were doing to fellow citizens because of their different country of birth.  What about those who administrated the internment?  What if such a person realized that what he was doing was wrong?  What about a non-Japanese-American who falls in love with an internee? What would that be like?  The primary accounts of, in this case, internees will always be the most historically important and compelling, but it’s also interesting to take a look at an important event through a different lens.

So many great works of literature depict people of high stature and low doing their best to represent humanity in the most moral manner possible.  Those works are great.  Mr. Moscaritolo makes an equally valid choice that many writers pass up.  Bess is off in Japan trying to do something great for humanity.  Sure.  But this story is about a man who is really thinking of the tsunami’s effect on his own life: his wife is gone, he may succumb to the desire to canoodle with Chloe Olson.  The author and reader do not minimize the human misery that took place on the other side of the world.  Instead, they are filling in their understanding of the world and people around them.

A small note: I love that Mr. Moscaritolo referred to the pretty English teacher as “Chloe Olson” so often.  Why the first name and the surname?  I don’t know what Mr. Moscaritolo was thinking, but I think that the narrator’s choice to call her “Chloe Olson” repeatedly is a kind of musical refrain.  When we have affection for someone, doesn’t their name become a kind of a song?  (I remember making a song of the name of a girl I had a crush on in first grade.  Sorry…I’m not telling her name.)

What Can We Steal?

  • Tell the story of a tangential character to understand different sides of a big event.  What would the plot of Star Wars be like if told from the perspective of a plumber on the Death Star?
  • Depict all facets of humanity: bravery and cowardice, altruism and selfishness.  People can’t be good and honorable all the time…what fun would that be?
  • Reveal a character’s thoughts about another through the names they choose to use for each other.  The use of nicknames can indicate familiarity; you already knew that.  But there are subtler ways to across a character’s attitude toward another, including the repeated use of a full name.

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