A Short Story of Pain and Loss
A story within a story. This advanced literary device, also known as a nested narrative, is used by Nessie Nankivell ’16, an English Language and Literature major, to reveal her main character’s pain and suffering in her short fiction work Sometimes These Things Heal on their Own, a story about pain and loss, which was accepted for presentation at the Society of Fellows Annual Meeting this past spring.
Learning from her mentor.
Nankivell worked with her Society of Fellows mentor, Literature and Creative Writing Professor Helane Levine-Keating, on her short story by combining “equal parts consumption and creation of literature,” Nankivell said. A Canadian, she found inspiration by studying the work of influential Canadian authors such as Michael Ondaatje, who won the Booker Prize for The English Patient, and Anne Michaels who is the current poet laureate of Toronto.
Upon reading a draft of Nankivell’s story, Levine-Keating thought the story within a story structure was especially well-suited for the narrative. “When Nessie showed me a new second version of the story as a separate story, it occurred to me that she might find a way to incorporate both drafts into the same story, where one protagonist might be imagining or writing a story that struggles with some of the same issues but has a different outcome,” Levine-Keating said.
Layers of narrative.
Sometimes These Things Heal on their Own explores the pain of Natasha, a woman who suffers the loss of her stillborn child. Within her mind, Natasha escapes by imagining Caroline, a woman going through a parallel situation.
After severely wounding her arm falling on broken glass, Natasha refuses to go to the hospital. As her wound festers, her sense of self shatters along with her marriage. She no longer recognizes her husband or herself. “Spirits can endure unimaginable hardships, it’s the body that will break and tear under the slightest circumstances,” Nankivell said. While souls can endure extreme pain, a body can easily surrender.
Another layer of the story dissects Natasha’s avoidance of the doctor. With her body betraying her, she actively chooses to do nothing. This inaction is as much a choice as action, and in this case, it could be fatal. At the close of the work, Natasha still sits at home on her couch avoiding the doctor, leaving the story unresolved and perpetually stuck in an ambiguous state of inaction.
An inspiring literary talent.
Nankivell loves writing, exploring a breadth of genres from this dark drama to comedy and musical writing. In addition to working with Levine-Keating, she has been strongly influenced by Performing Arts Professor Ryan Scott Oliver. “Ryan taught me that the best way to create original, inspired output is to fill your mind and pen with hours of reading, watching, listening, and note taking,” Nankivell said.
After participating in the Society of Fellows Annual Meeting in March, Nankivell graduated in May and moved back to Canada. She is currently writing a musical comedy and plans to pursue a career in comedy writing.