Every once in a while we are unexpectedly forced to recognize something about ourselves that we’re not exactly proud of. Like the way we don’t actually hear other people’s words because we are too busy planning our own; or maybe how our aggressive driving style suddenly looks a lot like the assholes we are always complaining about. Whatever it is, the new knowledge is uncomfortable and we often wish we could go back in time to our previous state of ignorant bliss.
In the amazing short story Ghost Knife, by Sharon Pomerantz we encounter this moment with the main character as she simultaneously experiences it herself. Ghost Knife opens with the narrator, a thirty-something single woman caught half-naked with her married lover in what they thought to be a secluded park, but was actually private property. As an opening scene, it introduces us to many of the prime characteristics of the couple. The scene has elements of shame and embarassment, but it is mostly entertaining. The reader can see that these two people offer each other a shared excitement and intimacy.
However, when they are caught again, in the same situation, at the end of the story (and this time brought up on charges of trespassing and indecent exposure) we learn a lot more about their internal struggles as they are finally shocked into their own true reality.
Pomerantz has a beautiful way of slipping depth and character development into her story, separating it from the narrator’s explanation of the life she sees as happenstance. The author’s use of the title as a metaphor reflects this ability. A Ghost Knife, we discover deep into the story, is a fish owned and prized by the narrator’s lover. A fish that is: “blind and dependent on sonar, it moves hesitantly, and mostly travels backward.” Much like the unconscious behavior of our narrator.
The beauty of this story culminates with the main character finding herself forced to face the proverbial mirror and wanting desperately, and literally to run from it. The reader can feel her panic as she crashes into the reality she has created.
Deservedly so, this story was published in the 2003 edition of The Best American Short Stories. Pomerantz is the author of numerous acclaimed short stories, a contributor to several journals and recently published her first novel, Rich Boy.
*(…or my first attempt at a professional review.)