[Reading Room] Theories of the Point of View… by Jennifer Wortman

This story is a great example of a short story that doesn’t follow a narrative structure but succeeds anyway.

Its full title is Theories of the Point of View Shifts In AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”

The Opening

This is one of those stories where the title serves the purpose of ‘pulling the reader in’ much more than the opening lines.

Just look at that title!

And the story goes on to deliver, with an academic, linguistic dissection of a silly song about sex by a gloriously shallow rock gods.

More than that, it delivers an actual story, as Wortman intercuts the academic dissection with reflections on the narrator’s own love life.

I knew straight away I was going to like this because of the humor in the opening.

1. The speaker — let’s call him Brian — is documenting the shift, à la Buber, from I-It to I-Thou relations, from subject-object to intersubjectivity. Confronted with his lover’s fast machine and clean motor, Brian can no longer maintain his stance as autonomous male subject gazing upon the Other. He and his lover merge; he is shaken.

Jennifer Wortman, Theories of…

For one thing, there’s an easter egg in there for AC/DC fans (the lead singer’s name really is Brian), and for another how can anyone read the words “confronted with his lover’s fast machine…autonomous male subject gazing upon the Other” without chuckling?

The Plot Thickens

Right after this opening paragraph, however, Wortman switches to another voice: the personal voice of the person writing this academic paper.

Was I not a sufficiently fast machine? Did I not keep my motor clean? I cleansed assiduously for you, removed hairs, performed ablutions. 

Jennifer Wortman, Theories of…

The story continues to alternate between the academic and the personal, slowly expanding the writer’s personal story even as the narrator tries valiantly to make a single-entendre rock lyric into a worth academic study.

And, of course, the themes she identifies in the song continue to be echoed by the questions she asks about her doomed love affair.

The Ending

Although the whole story walks a fine line between pretentious and hilarious, it has a real, poignant ending, with a sense that the narrator has learned something valuable, and been changed as a result.

I really liked this story!

Read the story in Electric Lit

Read more by Jennifer Wortman

Have you read this story? What did you think? Leave a comment!

The Reading Room is a series of posts where I review short stories with a writers’ eye.

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