Wow, what a story about an American Vietnam war veteran who at just twenty-six years old has to find words before he can perform even banal physical movements. "Once, I forget a word. I am on my way to the bathroom and I think, I am going __ the bathroom and suddenly it is gone. ... I lie on the floor with my bladder aching and want to cry until there is a whisper in my mind like angels that says toward."
I found the references to Gogol's "The Overcoat" interesting and fun in that Charlie copies words all day long and can't be without his "ratty" windbreaker. After he can no longer go to the library where Miss Fowler works, Charlie has to figure out a way to copy the words without reading them so that he can read them later at home. "When I realize that I am reading the book too much, I begin to hum in my head, to keep my mind completely blank so that my hand can copy now and my mind can read later." And, it might be this compartmentalization that will save him.
Charlie's life melds with books like Catch-22 and Cannery Row. The story begins with Charlie conflating his life and a story from The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Charlie tells the librarian the reason he tore up the pages of the book is that he is freeing the man who is trapped underground, Fortunato in "The Cask of Amontillado." Another time he reads the word fire in a book and tries to put it out by holding the book under running water.
The librarians in the story are heartfelt and I've found this to also be the case in public libraries I have used. The public libraries in my town do an amazing job with the resources they have. They serve the public in a nonjudgmental and kind way and see to it that people have computer access, information, books and films to enrich their lives. Anyway, I found Miss Fowler and the second librarian very real and believable. Even as Miss Fowler had to ban Charlie from the library, it was because she had no choice at that point after he knocked her to the ground attempting to put out the fire, he thought, was consuming her.
The chapter that begins with "Doc is washing glasses" tells of the horrific war events and explains how Charlie ended up with his soldier friend Jimmy Metcalf's book.
The story is written in first person POV and in present tense which lends an immediacy to it. The story conveys Charlie's confusion in such a way that is not confusing to the reader but yet gives a clear and believable sense of his dilemma and frustration. The story shows empathy and reminds a person that when someone is behaving in a manner one might think odd, it could be the only coping mechanism he or she has at the moment. I find this story particularly interesting because most of my stories tend to be about the idea that we never really know or understand what is going on in someone else's mind or what someone else is thinking.
The story is set somewhere south of Richmond, Virginia, I presume, in 1976 which is shown by providing a few timely newspaper headlines Charlie sees at the library. "Things I Know To Be True" is twenty-two pages long and was just published by One Story, issue number 209.
"It is strange how everything in the room looks exactly the same while my world slides slowly sideways."
"The worlds I know so inside and out that no card catalog in the world can make them not mine."
"I wonder if Linda would still come see me if she weren't called sister. I wonder if the light would still fade if there weren't a word night."
"My eyes feel like they are starving."
"I smile at everyone and it is such a good day that four people smile back and one person says hello. I feel like a true American citizen."
Kendra Fortmeyer's web site
One Story's web site