“Twenty One” Revisited Again

Back in late-2011, I wrote a piece that revisited “Twenty One.” This isn’t as an extensive a postmortem.

“Twenty One” was the first real short story that I’d written in many years. I wrote the story years after a tremendously important and fun short story class that I took at Seneca College. And the story would inaugurate an almost unbroken stretch of creative writing from 2010 to 2012.

It was a “real” short story, because, as opposed to everything that I’ve written since then, the story adhered to many of the conventions of what we refer to as a “short story,” e.g. little or no character development, very few characters, a single mood, and taut prose…

Elements: The protagonist, a young and intelligent university graduate, entered the story exactly where she would leave it: in front of a computer screen thinking about what to reveal onto her blog. And she was no short supply of revelations from the collapse of her engagement, to months of unemployment in the aftermath of the Great Recession, to being forced to move back home with her parents. The struggle of young adults in Toronto, even before the G20 Protests, which was passing event, was tough and extremely taxing on both body, mind, and soul.

Variations: I wrote at least three distinct versions of the story. In the first version that I wrote, Claire, the protagonist, remained depressed and aimless though she had permanently severed all ties with her ex-fiance. In the second revision, I added the social media aspect, that dominates our lives today from reaching out to friends to getting a job, and that I would further explore in That Lost Summer. In the third revision, I maintained the protagonist’s depressed mood but gave her a slight realization that she was just cresting over the wave and that she was on her way towards becoming a new person unfettered by the past.

Empirical Dimensions: Hemingway declared that writers should write what they knew, and following this dictum, everything in “Twenty One,” minus the fictional characters, exists or existed in real life in the Beaches and Leslieville neighbourhoods of Toronto. The sea glass under the boardwalk was real. The simmering heat that emanated from the pavement like a hot steam iron or a grill was real. And the terrible beach sand, that bears no resemblance to the sand found in vacation commercials, was real too. Yes, I had to fabricate certain things, like the name of a bar that was demolished before I wrote the story but that stuck in my mind. But details or details and expressions are expressions. And expressions are what readers want when they want to learn, when they want to be surprised.

Offspring: Though I lost my creative writing database, when my primary hard drive died last month, I can make rough guesses about what writing this brief short story led to.

  • “In Snow Country,” written months after “Twenty One,” was a reaction towards the limits of the modern short story and a return to the writings of Jack London that I’d read in grade school.
  • That Lost Summer was essentially about a thirtysomething male version of Claire with amnesia who, after a period of depression and injury, attempts to drown himself by rolling his wheelchair off a dock at the Beaches.
  • Chapter 2 of Linger, written in Fall 2011, was also set in Leslieville and in the Beaches. In fact, at the end of that chapter, that parodies “Twenty One,” Rachel walks down Woodbine Avenue to the Beaches, the opposite of what Claire did, where in a fit of paranoia she buries her painting.
  • “Human,” like “Twenty One,” was also about the disintegration of a relationship and how some guys are jerks, even if they don’t intentionally mean to be.
  • Twenty Five, which is a novel-length project that I’d like to write on the quarter-life crisis.
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