My story is about a world in which live narration can grant power to those being described, and so there is a market for narrators to follow their clients around and talk about what they do while they are doing it.
Gal Purdy’s mom dumps her savings on him to send him off to the academy, where he finds he is a middle-of-the-road talent. Not meant to stand to one side of a CEO in the boardroom, nor to follow brave soldiers into battle. The words of statecraft, lovemaking, war, artistry and medicine don’t come easy to Gal, who is pegged early on as a misfit among misfits, and not even the fun kind. His talent is words about words.
He makes a life for himself in the very academy in which he studied. There is a kind of stigma to this— those who can’t do, teach— but he convinces himself he is not filled with bitterness. His mother, however, is openly disappointed that he should end up earning as little money and as few accolades as is likely possible for a certified Narrator. He gives her a salary anyway.
For many years he toils as a assistant to his superiors and their projects, about which he maintains perfect civility though he is convinced of their pointlessness. For instance: Senior Narrator Gregorio, the fat, wart-covered lecher who brazenly extols upon the beauty of female students while they’re trying to study — speaking loudly while they squirm in discomfort, frustration and disgust, pleading with him to leave — makes extra money by researching optimal word pairings, which he sells to various professional publications. “Gallantly” is, as an example, better applied to “charge” than it is to “shoot.” The discharge of deadly weapons is more effectively described, and so enhanced, by the word “vicious.”
It’s all very boring for Gal, who sees no potential in the endless refinement of the already understood.
Around this time he meets Greta, a widow with a young son. Gal eventually marries her and adopts the boy. For a period of about six years, Gal is happier than he has ever been — even given the drudgery of his assistantship.
Then, one night at dinner, Gal notices his wife’s right eye is red as though filled with blood. They are in the carriage on their way to the doctor when she begins to lose words. In a panic, she recites nursery rhymes until all her words are nonsense sounds. She pleads with Gal but he cannot understand her. Then suddenly her face spasms and she falls forward, her head in his lap. She is dead by the time the carriage reaches the doctor.
Their inability to communicate at the very end haunts Gal for the rest of his life.
When he finally becomes a Fellow, Gal begins his own research into the effect of words upon words, and words upon words upon words. It is commonly believed that words can have no influence on words, but he thinks that may be wrong. He diagrams palimpsests, and orders his new cadre of assistants to speak over him while he himself speaks. They try different juxtapositions. They try superpositional metaphors. They try phase modulated overdubbing and translated-untranslated poetry. But nothing works.
Greta’s son, his son, now a young man, decides to become a writer, a decision that infuriates Gal for its selfishness and the unreliability of the field itself. Even worse, the boy is clever. He could be a better, more successful narrator than Gal if he’d only give it a try. Gal confronts his adopted son and the two men fight late into the night before they both finally retire to bed. When he gets up in the morning, his son is gone.
Gal is laughed at for his choice of project, but so many of the Academy’s projects lose money that his modest needs don’t raise any flags. He is reminded time and time again that narration is something that cannot be strengthened through narration.
Finally, it is the mousey little assistant with whom Gal has been conducting an affair who discovers how to stack the power of narration. It is an accident of her character; not very bright or aggressive, she speaks primarily in generalities for the purpose of encouragement, with very little concrete detail at all. It was antithetical to how narration was usually done, but Gal isn’t bothered by this strangeness. He wants to know the most challenging answer first:
What happens when they narrate each other?