Glimmer Train Winter 2015: “Language Lessons” by Barbara Ganley

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All these hours reading Glimmer Train issues, puzzling together what I should write to increase the chances of GT accepting my work, and I’ve found my model story for my future submissions. Not only does “Language Lessons” flow like air and explore its concepts with crisp diction and relaxed pacing, but I also developed a deep personal connection to the story in the half-hour I spent entranced by it— oddly enough, through a female protagonist noting how she can’t really connect with anyone, especially boys.

 

Fi and her family live on the high school campus where her father works. After growing up in an expensive boy’s prep school in the 60s, our heroine regards boys the same way noir detectives regard “dames”… some fascination, but mostly annoyance and barely-concealed disgust. Her father’s job requires that Mom, Dad, two brothers, and Fi relocate to England. Fi’s promised a new start at an all-girls school, but the awkward and introverted heroine can’t seem to connect with her own gender after all this time alone.

I think that general conceit— hidden language deciding our lives and our future, putting up cultural boundaries that become near insurmountable— was the story’s point. Gender’s just one lens to use. I say think, because the beginning and ending of “Language Lessons,” frame the story into something I’m not quite sure of. The story’s prelude describes the plot’s ending: Fi’s voyage from Old England back to New England, which literally (later on) and figuratively (perhaps since forever?) tears the family apart. Little in the rest of the story foreshadows or alludes to the voyage back you-can-never-again-go-home. It’s a dramatization of the obvious conclusion to the rest of the story’s events, a dramatization that we didn’t need to see. And I have no idea about the point of the last scene. If both were cut, “Language Lessons” would still work at its core, as a coming-of-age tale.

And it’s a great tale at that! A lot of seemingly pointless scenes— including a mystery about scarves on the road, or a shrugged-off encounter with a flasher— do not get explained, and contribute to mood rather than plot. And that’s exactly what childhood is like! For me, at least. All these small events in childhood highlight how alone kids can be, and how likely they are to stay alone. There’s no need for a grand tragedy at the beginning/end, because the little stories along the way point to such a fate. If Ganley’s aim was to connect to us, through language, in a story about how subtle, figurative linguistic differences divide us… well, if that’s the case, no superfluous scenes can ever diminish its shine.

This story represents Barbara Ganley’s first print publication. It appears that her main writing work goes towards Community Expressions, an organization that uses social media storytelling to further community life and nonprofit goals. It’s a cool idea, and worth checking out. Maybe I happen to be the right audience for “Language Lessons,” and I’m just one of the ones with a weird childhood. This story’s magical all the same.

Interested in this story? Buy it and many others here!

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