If you think the life of a critic might be fun, days like this one would disabuse you of the notion. To have stumbled upon, twice in one week, as I have, stories of not inconsiderable quality, written by authors of seeming talent, and yet to have to write generally negative reviews of them is no fun. Sadly, that is the fate that must be bestowed on "Silence," a "Supernatural" fan fiction piece that reaches for the heart strings, but unfortunately cannot quite tug them.
"Silence" is a "short" that nominally covers the weeks immediately after the death of Mary Winchester. In it, four year old Dean has barely uttered a word in a month, and the story reflects on how John deals with his son's trauma and his own grief. Ultimately, John restores Dean to health by evoking the memory of Mary, prompting the four year old to reassure his infant brother of their mother's love, even in death.
"Silence" is what it promises - short - and it is that, ironically, that prevents it from achieving the emotional impact it was presumably intended to ellicit. The brevity of the story reflects two deadly flaws in the author's thinking, and it is they that undermine the effectiveness and power of the piece.
First, the author writes knowing that her readers know the backstory, and second, she therefore assumes that she can forego detail and exposition because her reader's knowledge of the story will provide them with what they need to know. It is the author's reliance on the reader's knowledge that ultimately prevents "Silence" from having its intended emotional impact.
With her readers expected to fill in the gaps, the author never sets the stage. We are never invited into John and Dean's trauma. Rather, we are told about it. Consequently, as there is no build-up, it is impossible for the resolution to have any real punch. In effect, the story ends before the reader can get into the mood that the author is attempting to create.
Normally a critic should refrain from suggesting alternative ideas to what a writer proposes in her work, but what the author of "Silence" has produced has such potential, and done with care could pack such a poignant wallop, that it is worth exploring the possibilities.
One version would have been simply a longer exposition of the story that the author has given us. Only instead of John noticing that Dean is traumatized and resolving it, we instead get a more detailed story.
In this version, John, distraught by the death of Mary, does not notice Dean's pain. As he gradually becomes less self-absorbed and begins to realize the depths of his son's anguish, John at first tries, in spite of his own grief, to nudge Dean back to emotional engagement. John's attempts turn out to be feeble, and as his anxiety and concern rise, he turns to doctors and the medical profession for help. Unfortunately, no one is able to coax Dean out of his emotional shell, and John's fears that he has lost both a wife and his oldest boy overwhlem him with pain. Overcome and forlorn in his desperate fears, John resignedly places the photo of Mary with Dean. In the end. the memory of a mother's love restores Deam, and at that point we end the story as the author did.
This alternative need only have been somewhat longer than the author's original, and as the reader would have been drawn into the build-up of John's rising pain, grief and desperation, so the emotional pay-off would have been that much more pronounced.
Option B simply would have taken the story from a different perspective. "Silence" is written in the third person omnicient, with the reader seeing the action and seeing and hearing the thoughts of the characters. Instead, the story could have been taken from John's perspective. We would have seen Dean through John's eyes and we would have heard him wrestle with his grief and his pain and his desperation.
Either of these approaches would have provided the reader with the necessary involvement in the action to give the story greater power. Yet, it is a fatal conceit, especially of fan fiction writers. The author assumes that because the readers know the characters, that it is not necessary to set the scene.
This is a mistake. It takes the reader for granted, and creates not an atmosphere of intimacy and empathy, but rather the feeling one gets when dropping in on the middle of one side of a telephone conversation.
Also, as with many "Supernatural" shorts, charcaterization of the main protagonist in "Silence," John, is problematic. The author tells us that John is worried about his son, but the evidence for that is slight. Would any father, even in the midst of his own pain, really let his son lapse into a month long silenece without taking any action or seeking professional help?
We know from episodes of "Supernatural" that John doted on his boys, and that even after parting with Sam that he kept an eye on him to make sure he was safe. This was a good if desperate father and it strains credulity to assume that John would not have taken some kind of action to assure his son's physical and mental well being. Yet again, the reader has to do the author's work for her and fill in the blanks - to the palpable cost of the story's poingnancy.
Paradoxically, and this is what suggests that the author may have some real talent, we glimpse in Dean some real characterization. The author's choice of words describing Dean before the fire - cheerful and fun loving - evokes in the mind a real sense of what Dean must have been like and links us to the man the reader knows him to be in the show. It is only three words - but it is three well chosen words.
Similarly, the one line that the author has Dean speak at the end of the story sounds uncannily remincient of Dean's last words to Sammy as he kisses his brother good night just before the fire. It is not the same words, but the author captured the tonal simplicity and the sentiment perfectly. It is an effective evocation of the show's mythology, and it makes the reader weep to think what might have been had the author been inclined to write more than just 300 words. The writer clearly has an ear for little Dean's voice, now if only she can be persuaded to use it.
Of course, some will instantly contest the point. They will argue that "Silence" is, after all, a short, and that it cannot be expected to do more than be a short.
This argument falls flat on two counts. First, in strict literary terms, there is no such thing as a "short" There is a "short story," but that has rules of scene setting, rising action, climax, descending action and conclusion that is no part of "Silence." In short, "Silence" ain't.
The more important argument, however, is that even a short must, to be judged succesful, be long enough to achieve its goals. Presumably the aim of "Silence" is to raise sentiments of sadness and wistfulness, as well as a deep appreciation of the bond between the brothers - even at their young age. Again, none of this happens as the reader is allowed too little time tieing into the situation before it is resolved.
Interestingly, the effect is not unlike the clonclusion of the season 3 finale, "No Rest for the Wicked." In the final moments of that episode, the viewer was so quickly shifted from Sam grieving over his brother to the scene of Dean in hell, that the emotions were muted. In effect, the viewer never got the chance to grieve with Sam, thereby draining the emotional air out of the bubble.
Of course, the writers of "Supernatural" had a lot to cram into 45 minutes of screen time. The author of "Silence" faced no such time constraints and therefore has no such excuse. She was either lazy, preferring in effect to let her readers do her work for her, or she simply did not understand that setting the scene is the minimal prerequisite for evoking real emotion.
Either way, it is too bad. There are indications of real talent in "Silence." The idea was definitely powerful and moving. The portrayal of Dean, given especially how little there was of it, was astoundingly spot on. Had the author sought to write a story instead of merely providing her readers with an outline, she may have produced a true gem.
"What is written in haste is, in general, read without pleasure," Sir Francis Bacon once said. Surprisingly, that is perhaps a bit too harsh a comment on "Silence" and its hasty author. A little perhaps, but not by much.
LOL Dude... it was meant to be a 100-word drabble. It actually ended up longer than I intended it to be. ;)
That said, though, I do appreciate that you think I have greater talent than I showed here. I hope you'll enjoy my longer works, as this was just meant to be my way of getting my feet wet in this fandom. :)
Thanks for reading!