Lydia Kann’s “The Arrival,” (which earned an honorable mention in The Nimrod Literary Awards, The Katherine Ann Porter Prize for Fiction, Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry Vol. 54, No. 1) makes an art form out of the style technique called ellipsis--that wonderful way of leaving enough out to invite the reader in.
The story opens with sixteen-year-old Lili’s arrival in Los Angeles from New York. Her mentally ill mother sent her away and now Lili must make a new life with her mother’s friends, an older couple, whom Lili barely knows. To capture the fragmentation of Lili, the severing from what is known, Kann uses subheadings, which effectively breaks up the narrative.
In the first section, “The Arrival, L.A.” the reader is introduced to ellipsis via the narrator in the first paragraph:
“The bus is smoking as it pulls into the slot between a Greyhound and a Trailways. Not like Camels, mind you. Fumes.”
Then Kann moves back in time, “The Goodbye, N.Y.” and we hear Lili’s mother speak for the first time:
“…not going. No. You are not. Changed my mind. Come home. Now.”
Lili shook no. (note the ellipsis here: the omission of “her head” to speed things up)
“A mistake. Ich kennisht. Can’t do it. You need to stay.”
Here, ellipsis is used to depict the mother’s mental state and to reveal that English is not her first language, but rather Yiddish. Later, we hear her mother’s friends, Gitle and Moishe, also Jewish, speak in a similar way, and adding another layer of unfamiliarity with English by disrupting the traditional sentence structure (subject/predicate), (a technique called anastrophe):
Here’s Moishe:“A mishuga teenager, boy crazy. And stupid, an empty kop. Nonsense, she talks.”
Or later: “It’s you, Lisa. You. Disappointed we are, and surprised.”
At times, the narrator and Lili are so fused it’s hard to tell where the narration is coming from. Regardless, there are passages where the verbs are dropped altogether. The result is speed--perhaps to capture Lili’s reluctance to think about certain things-- and also a freshness to the syntax.
Under the subheading “The Bath, N.Y.” (when Lili is still living with her crazy mother):
“Up the stairs and in the door and the sound, the sound, the sound of mumbling. Lili went to her room. Snow piled up near the broken windows. Rocks, they threw rocks, the neighbors, kids.”
And in “The Arrival II, L.A.” Lili encounters Gitle’s and Moishe’s house for the first time, her new home. Here the lack of verbs stretches over several sentences, which helps to convey Lili’s lack of agency and her frantic state of mind, whirling with the newness. “The house with low ceilings, living room, two sections of oatmeal couch over here and over there. The kitchen with a new long counter, high as Gitle’s breasts when she stands and cuts, cuts a little melon, a little pineapple to bring to the party. There are two tiny bedrooms, small as closets. Lili’s with a studio couch and desk. They name it her room. The couch opens into a slim bed. Her feet will hang over the end, like dead fish. Lili thinks, Better than a bath, better than a coffin. Better than snow for a pillow. A whirring. Mom in her bed, talking, talking. Lili dresses for the party”
As Lili settles into her new life, Kann shifts to more traditional sentence structure and the use of ellipsis drifts away. Lili attends high school and changes her name to Lisa; she meets a boy, and eventually is asked to join a sorority. She is on the short list for Homecoming Queen, and ends up not the queen, but a Princess.
Toward the end of the story, after Lisa/Lili decides not to join the sorority, she begins to assume more of an outsider status, aligning with her mother, who has been on the outside for a long time. Lisa/Lili longs for New York and her mother. Here ellipsis is used to capture her interior state:
“She wouldn’t have left New York. No, not on her own. Each day at school and the library and that job. All those subways, changing trains, trains stopping between stations, men’s hands and did he touch me there? Each day, the papers and tests, and Lili, your grades are slipping. “Why?” they asked. She did not say. She did not say this or that. Each morning emerging from the bath cold, skin like a view of the Alps, puckers of ridges. Each day the black skirt, a black high-neck shirt, and onto the subway before the sun. Each day a smile, a big smile, and all that fun. At school. And the girls.”
Over the course of the story, Kann has four iterations of her subheading, “The Arrival,” and each one carries similar images that are changed, infused with more consciousness (ie less ellipsis) of Lili/Lisa as she comes to terms with her home, or rather her lack of home.
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