Recommendation by Josephine Greenland
“Change us,” the narrators chant. “Change us, we ask the blood inside us. Change us, we ask the ghost mothers and fathers.” The theme of change, both as a desire to break with the old and become something new, and the tendency to stick to old ways and inherit what is familiar, comfortable, and predictable, is the core of Knoll’s short story. In the same way, Red, is a profound experience in its own right, and one which changes the reader.
In what ways does “Red” cause change? First and foremost, through it’s unusual storytelling style. The use of the plural “we” narrator establishes the strong voice of a community, which directly engages us, the community of readers.
In the opening line,”Before, we were blue,” (italics mine) uses the prepositional signifier to show that something fundamental and strange has changed the characters in the story. The closing line of the first paragraph, “Today, we became red,” points to the nature of that change. Symbolically, Knoll has summarised the key event of her story in the opening paragraph. Reading the rest of the narrative uncovers the many levels of that change.
First comes the professional change. The seamstress mothers have run out of blue dye and received a new, red dye for their clothes, which the girls rub in their hair and skin and teeth, seemingly in innocent play. This ignites the second, mythical change: the three girls who transform into red deer. This is bizarre in a beautiful imaginative, and delicate way. What makes it even more compelling, is the indifference with which the parents and the brothers treat it. The reader keeps reading to find out why no one in the community reacts, even when the girls begin to physically harm each other to the trigger the deer transformation. We realize the deer symbolize a third level of change: the shift from childhood to adolescence. Colouring themselves in red symbolizes their bodily changes, explicitly seen in how “we begged the place between our legs for blood”. The deer represent the unknown, the new identities which the girls are expected to inherit. They occupy an existential gap and the author reflects this through the experimental writing style, colourful imagination, and the evocative, childish language.
The “we” pronoun allows the reader to experience the changes with the girls, we become the girls while reading and experience the changes they go through.
However, simultaneously, on reading the closing lines, it would also seem that there has been no change at all, because the girls have inherited red, or redness: the red of womanhood, motherhood, the red of the dye which is their livelihood.
Finally, as the girls saw off their antlers, they embrace their new, red-infused identities and what was once extraordinary becomes ordinary.
Read the full short story here.
Katie Knoll’s stories have appeared in Narrative, Ploughshares, The Pinch, and Black Warrior Review, among others. Her work has been selected for one of Narrative’s 2013 Top 5 Stories of the Year and a 2016 AWP Intro Journals Award Honorable Mention. She currently lives in Ohio, where she recently received her M.A. in Fiction at the University of Cincinnati.
Josephine Greenland was born in Sweden. She has a degree in English from the University of Exeter, and is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. When she doesn’t read short stories, she writes her own, and has had one story published in the Dream Catcher Magazine. Josephine also enjoys playing violin and go on hiking holidays with her family.
The Master’s Review is an online and print publication defining itself as “The Platform for Emerging Writers”. The magazine runs an annual Short Story Award for New Writers, a Fall Fiction Contest, and a New Voices category open the year round,. Submissions to New Voices are made via the Submittable online platform. Any questions about Submissions are emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Masters review also run a blog which features any joint competitions MR runs with other publications. The founding editor is Kim Winternheimer and the current Editorial Director is Sadye Teiser.
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