One Story: Goodnight, Nobody – Sarah Hall

2 out of 5

I mean, stories about nothing are still, essentially, about something, yes?  Or they should be: that even the focus on nothingness functions as your Something.  And let’s say your nothing-fueled Something is tied to one’a them formative periods of life, such as childhood; such as that important age when you’re recognizing yourself as separate from mommy and daddy: then part of that nothing equation becomes whatever tone or feelings you’re hoping to evoke, the lack of substance just one of the defining elements of this evocation.

Let’s go with all that.  It supposes that a story fitting this criteria should be capable of effecting something in me, the reader.  Which is an evaluation parallel to “liking” the story: I can not like something because I don’t relate to it while acknowledging that it seemed to represent whatever it’s representing well.

In Goodnight, Nobody, writer Sarah Hall is representing a bit of nothingness in our young narrator’s life, or the type of nothing that seems like a giant Something at the time.  Jem lives with her grandmother and mother, whom she affectionately calls Mumm-ra, viewing the world through the goggles of cartoons and childhood, helping single Mumm-ra take care of her younger brother, Sav, and missing on growing up as she reads Goodnight Moon to her sibling.   There’s some impressive restraint in the story, providing setup for things to go wrong which don’t, but wrapping back around to my wandering opening, its restraint that turns into tedium.  The narrational voice successfully avoids many kid cliches, but then also includes the Mumm-ra bit (and other similar references) in a bid to tinestamp the experience, and the combination is transparent: I hear the author constructing sentences, not the characters.  As evidenced by the title, the story is downplaying things to offer up some thoughts on identity, and the ephemeral nature of people and our fleeting emotions, but it touches on these things to lightly without digging its heels in to any other grounding aspect, resulting in a lightweight tale that’s maybe a bit too cleanly constructed.

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