Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Letter Never Sent, by Rachel Swirsky

A Letter Never Sent
Rachel Swirsky
Konundrum Engine Literary Review: July 2007

With A Letter Never Sent Rachel Swirsky has written a chilling short story which gets into the head of a pedophile who has not yet acted on his desires, if the narrator is reliable. The narrator, Marc, addresses the letter to a Dr. Wickham, presumably a psychiatrist.

My name is Marc. I am twenty-two. I need to prove to you that I am "under significant mental stress" and that I am a "threat to others." Probably you need to know something about me so that you will understand why.

Marc spends the next eight pages (single spaced) explaining to the doctor how he met and befriended an eleven year old girl named Lisa. Since we know from the beginning that Marc believes he is a threat to others, the reader spends the entire story waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something unspeakable, perhaps un-writeable to occur.

The scariest thing about A Letter Never Sent is that it feels authentic. It feels real. We get that Marc initially has feelings that he is uncomfortable with and that he truly tries to do right by not encouraging them, but then we realize that Marc is also not going out of his way to avoid situations where he will experience those feelings. Not really.

A Letter Never Sent is a terrifying story because of how trusting Lisa is and despite Marc not wanting to harm her at the beginning of the story, he remember from the first paragraph that he believes he is a threat to others. To Lisa.

This isn’t a story which brings pleasure in the reading or which would be passed around to friends because they "just have to read it", but A Letter Never Sent draws the cliches of "chilling", "powerful", and "moving" to the forefront. Rightly so. We fear for Lisa while we are hoping beyond hope that Marc will not act. This is "only" a story, but Swirsky makes it real.

A Letter Never Sent feels like a letter of warning to parents, that innocents can be harmed, and perhaps it is a warning letter. Perhaps it is just a solid, scary story where the fear lies in what might happen. Perhaps it is more since Swirsky has stated that it is a story she feels passionate about. Whatever A Letter Never Sent might be, it is a very good story and one that is worth reading despite (or because of) the fact that it is uncomfortable to read and that we might need to wash off the dirt when the last page is turned.

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