Feedback on New Year's Eve Tragedy

February 2, 2017
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“New Year’s Eve Tragedy” by Gracie K. is a fictional piece of writing about a boy called Tommy who drove while intoxicated with three passengers after a party, resulting in a fatal accident, killing one boy named Bobby and paralyzing another. The deceased teenager’s family experiencing the news about their child was told in detail, as well as Tommy’s feelings coping with the reality that he killed a man. While I enjoyed reading the story, there were some characteristics of its structure that felt like it did not help the narrative.

The change in the point of view confused me about who I was supposed to focus on. The story began in first person, centered on a juror present while Tommy’s trial took place. In this moment, most of the events in the story’s timeline already occurred and were explained. Then, after Tommy’s sentence was determined, the point of view changed to third person omniscient. The narrator honed in on Bobby, his parents, and Tommy, in that order. This caused me to question what the purpose of switching perspectives was and why it was done. If the juror was meant to portray an outsider’s view of the case, why was it in first person? Why was the role of the protagonist passed off as the story progressed? For example, after the verdict, the story continued in the eyes of Bobby. Then, it transitioned to his parents after they were introduced, and as they visit the hospital, it switched again to Tommy in the waiting room. This act of cutting off the characters’ stories once they met the next teller made the reader’s viewpoint selectively blind to what happened to everyone after they were no longer followed. It puzzled me what I gained with this approach as opposed to other ways. To illustrate, if there was a single, clear protagonist, I would know more about his or her traits and feel more emotion for their misfortunes. However, changing narrators, especially before or after they experience stress makes these characters feel distant and less human. The biggest change in personality was Tommy, who became more solemn and serious after his drunkenness murdered his friend, but that was based on the car accident that was only described from strangers and his jail time that was briefly summarized. Moving from perspective to perspective in this way made me feel out-of-touch and unresponsive to these tragedies.

Also, the way the timeline was presented, with the ending coming first, felt like a spoiler to me and diminished the suspense I felt when reading. I knew almost everything that was to happen from the descriptions the juror gave, which was sympathetic, but not empathetic. From that point, I anticipated everyone’s feelings, understand them, yet because of the juror’s account of the events, I was not moved as strongly as I should have. Not knowing what was to come and its terrible effects would have shocked me much more than starting from the finish and going back to rerun the course of the story.

Lastly, the fact that the names of just two characters, Tommy and Bobby, were given, and only near the end of the story (when Bobby’s parents received a phone call stating he died and when Tommy was greeted in the waiting room of the hospital) perplexed me. Descriptions like “the boy” and “he” by themselves created awkward redundancies, and didn’t clearly define the characters, which is where the role of names come in. Names clear up confusion and bring me close to the people I read about. Only hearing “the father,” “the parents,” or “a boy,” particularly when there are multiple boys or parents, felt like hearing a muffled conversation without knowing which voice was which. I imagined that there were many reasons to justify all of these choices, but they ultimately led to a mild experience where I couldn’t feel any of the characters, whether it was due to being unable to distinguish them or having foresight into their futures.

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