‘Manifest’ by ‘Pemi Aguda [Short Story Review]

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You can read this story for free at Granta.com here!

This is not only a story that is incredibly powerful in the way that it chooses to portray its main character but also in its use of second-person narration. This is not a perspective that is used very often and when it is, it’s very easy for it to come off is kind of tacky. Not so with this story. It’s an incredibly powerful way of inserting the reader into on unsettling mind-set. I had no idea what to expect from this story when I started reading it but I was instantly dragged in by the mystery around it and this kind of disconcerting inevitability of what was about to come.  

The second person narration makes the story even more powerful than it would be already. The reader is put into the position of the protagonist in which they start to feel the loss of control along with them. Even though the reader is put into that place of being a main character they have no control over how the narrative is told. Every time the narrator commands the audience to do something it happens within the story and there’s no option to not comply to that act. This mimics the psychological turmoil the protagonist is going through because she too feels as if some voice inside of her is commanding her to do something–there’s nothing else that she can do. In a way the reader along with the main character has to give in to this narrator and allow the story to develop completely out of their hands even though there is this facade that there is a decision to be made.  

Being directly addressed by a voice that isn’t a character within the story is incredibly unsettling, which is a feeling that pervades throughout. Even at the very beginning you get this notion that there’s this lurking force because the narrator is addressing you. You want to believe that they are somehow almost sympathetic but the way that the story is structured makes them very malicious just with their voice. Many events are kind of thrown to the side as if they mean nothing but there are very pivotal moments that lead to the escalation of deterioration in the main character. An example of this is the protagonist’s mother hitting her with a Bible. The first time that this event comes up it’s kind of brushed past and the actual moment is not fully described until later and the reader is left wondering what exactly happened because it is a very violent and unconventional thing to have happen.

It’s just an unsettling story in general. There are a lot of really violent things that happened in the story–things that play off of the reader’s sympathy. And all of it is made far stronger and more potent because it’s addressed as the readers actions. It makes you feel very on the spot; even if it was a comedic narrative or a how to manual. However to have this direct address when such horrific things are being done by the protagonist makes you shift in your seat but at the same time desperately need to know at what point, at what line, the protagonist, and the narrator, is not willing to cross. 

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