What Works 2/18

A young man’s fateful dance with death by Thomas Curwen


There are a lot of things that work about this emotional narrative on a teenager with cancer. The way the narrative begins is definitely one of them. Instead of beginning the piece by telling the reader exactly what is going on with Jesus Garcia, the young subject with a brain tumor, he starts by showing, not telling the reader Garcia’s personality. By making the second sentence a quote from Garcia, you can tell that the author’s priority is to show the story from Garcia’s point of view. I love the detail in the first few paragraphs describing Garcia’s trip back from the hospital.

“He just wanted to hang out with friends, smoke some weed and play video games.”

This line tells me that there is no screen or filter between the subject and the writer. As a reader you almost feel like you are a camera hanging lingering around Garcia through out the scenes described. It doesn’t feel like someone is there, taking note of everything happening. Instead it feels like you the reader are there yourself, observing closely but intruding as little as possible.

The author’s detailed descriptions of Garcia’s outfit gives the reader an idea of what he is like. I can tell he is a pretty chill guy from his loose, baggy clothes but I can also see him as a sports lover from his Yankees cap and converse sneakers.

I like how the author decides not to get into how Garcia’s life with cancer began until eight paragraphs down. This tells me that the author wants this narrative to be about how Garcia is dealing with the disease, not how he was before or when it happened.

The details about Garcia’s home, family and finances really put everything into perspective. Not only is Garcia a 19-year-old ready to start and build a life, he is doing it with cancer and a family that can barely afford to stay afloat each month.

I like what the author has decided to do with all of the details Garcia had given him. He found ways to tie everything in nicely and provided background in a way that doesn’t feel boring or insignificant.

The narrative has great use of quotes, using them only when necessary. The author does a better job of describing things than any long, bulky quote could do. His quotes are short, simple and relevant.

One of my favorite quotes is of Garcia reacting to the news that the fourth surgery could cause paralysis or blindness. “That’s not even one-half percent in my head, not even the slightest decibel. Everything is going to be good. Positive. Ill give it to you in Spanish. Positivo.” The author could have described Garica’s lack of concern regarding the surgery but this quote really showed me his attitude in a much more touching way.

I think the part about the singer Ayala dedicating her song at a concert to Garcia was a great way to describe Garcia’s outlook on his situation. The author relates the lyrics “Nothing matters to me if one day I die only that they bury me singing” to Garcia’s attitude of living a carefree life, even if it meant ignoring the truth.

No one had told him why he had been discharged. No one said that the tumor had grown back and all options had been exhausted. One nurse wondered if he knew. Another believed his doctor should tell him; the doctor left that decision to Valentina.

^This paragraph was such great way to tell the readers what had happened after his fourth surgery. He starts describing Garcia’s return home from the hospital before he even explains how the surgery went. We have an image of Garcia being home finally after 5 weeks of post op in the hospital before we find out that he doesn’t even know that was his last real hope.

The end of the story is truly tear jerking. Every last moment of Garcia’s short life is described beautifully by the author. The very last line is the best quote of all: “Jesus was one asked if 19 is too young to die. ‘It’s never too early, and it’s never too late,’ he said. ‘Everyone’s life is borrowed.’”

The author did such a great job of keeping himself removed from the piece. Doing this allows the reader to feel like they are just a fly on the wall and the story is a true, uninterrupted account of what really happened. Even in that last line, the author was probably the one to ask if 19 is too young to die but he phrases it “Jesus was once asked” instead. I think that makes a big difference in delivering a narrative well.

He successfully took a terribly sad story and ended up making readers feel happy at the end.


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