By Louise Ure
Bear with me here. This is not a political blog; rather it’s a discussion of the use of point of view. Specifically that of an omniscient narrator in literature.
Last week an emailed first-hand account of a possible terrorist hijacking attempt on an AirTran plane flying between Atlanta and Houston was making the rounds on the blogosphere.
Forget for a moment whether you belong to the “This feels too much like socialism to me” camp or the “Could the wingnuts get any crazier?” one. Let’s look at this email from a strictly literary point of view.
The full copy of the email is below:
From: Petruna, Tedd J. (JSC-DX12)[RAYTHEON TECHNICAL SERVICES COMPANY]
Sent: Friday, November 27, 2009 11:32 AM
Subject: Long story short….
One week ago, I went to Ohio on business and to see my father. On Tuesday, November the 17th, I returned home. If you read the papers the 18th you may have seen a blurb where a AirTran flight was cancelled from Atlanta to Houston due to a man who refused to get off of his cell phone before takeoff. It was on Fox.
This was NOT what happened.
I was in 1st class coming home. 11 Muslim men got on the plane in full attire. 2 sat in 1st class and the rest peppered themselves throughout the plane all the way to the back.
As the plane taxied to the runway the stewardesses gave the safety spiel we are all so familiar with. At that time, one of the men got on his cell and called one of his companions in the back and proceeded to talk on the phone in Arabic very loudly and very aggressively. This took the 1st stewardess out of the picture for she repeatedly told the man that cell phones were not permitted at the time. He ignored her as if she was not there.
The 2nd man who answered the phone did the same and this took out the 2nd stewardess. In the back of the plane at this time, 2 younger Muslims, one in the back, isle, and one in front of him, window, began to show footage of a porno they had taped the night before, and were very loud about it. Now….they are only permitted to do this prior to Jihad. If a Muslim man goes into a strip club, he has to view the woman via mirror with his back to her. (don’t ask me….I don’t make the rules, but I’ve studied) The 3rd stewardess informed them that they were not to have electronic devices on at this time. To which one of the men said “shut up infidel dog!” She went to take the camcorder and he began to scream in her face in Arabic. At that exact moment, all 11 of them got up and started to walk the cabin. This is where I had had enough! I got up and started to the back where I heard a voice behind me from another Texan twice my size say “I got your back.” I grabbed the man who had been on the phone by the arm and said “you WILL go sit down or you Will be thrown from this plane!” As I “led” him around me to take his seat, the fellow Texan grabbed him by the back of his neck and his waist and headed out with him. I then grabbed the 2nd man and said, “You WILL do the same!” He protested but adrenaline was flowing now and he was going to go. As I escorted him forward the plane doors open and 3 TSA agents and 4 police officers entered. Me and my new Texan friend were told to cease and desist for they had this under control. I was happy to oblige actually. There was some commotion in the back, but within moments, all 11 were escorted off the plane. They then unloaded their luggage.
We talked about the occurrence and were in disbelief that it had happen, when suddenly, the door open again and on walked all 11!! Stone faced, eyes front and robotic (the only way I can describe it). The stewardess from the back had been in tears and when she saw this, she was having NONE of it! Being that I was up front, I heard and saw the whole ordeal. She told the TSA agent there was NO WAY she was staying on the plane with these men. The agent told her they had searched them and were going to go through their luggage with a fine tooth comb and that they were allowed to proceed to Houston . The captain and co-captain came out and told the agent “we and our crew will not fly this plane!” After a word or two, the entire crew, luggage in tow, left the plane. 5 minutes later, the cabin door opened again and a whole new crew walked on.
Again…..this is where I had had enough!!! I got up and asked “What the hell is going on!?!?” I was told to take my seat. They were sorry for the delay and I would be home shortly. I said “I’m getting off this plane”. The stewardess sternly told me that she could not allow me to get off. (now I’m mad!) I said “I am a grown man who bought this ticket, who’s time is mine with a family at home and I am going through that door, or I’m going through that door with you under my arm!! But I am going through that door!!” And I heard a voice behind me say “so am I”. Then everyone behind us started to get up and say the same. Within 2 minutes, I was walking off that plane where I was met with more agents who asked me to write a statement. I had 5 hours to kill at this point so why the hell not. Due to the amount of people who got off that flight, it was cancelled. I was supposed to be in Houston at 6pm. I got here at 12:30am.
Look up the date. Flight 297 Atlanta to Houston .
If this wasn’t a dry run, I don’t know what one is. The terrorists wanted to see how TSA would handle it, how the crew would handle it, and how the passengers would handle it.
I’m telling this to you because I want you to know….
The threat is real. I saw it with my own eyes….
The airline quickly posted a response to the email, debunking the passenger’s account, and adding the red-faced information that Petruna wasn’t even on the plane. He’d missed his connection.
So okay, we’re dealing with fiction. As fiction, how does it rate?
- It’s crying out for a new title. “Long story short” is enough to make my eyes glaze over. It sounds like my father-in-law, twenty-five minutes and three drinks into a bad joke.
- He gets points for decent research. Even though he wasn’t really on the plane, he managed to get a fair number of facts (the large group of foreign-speaking passengers, the controversy over a cell phone, the passengers reboard) correct.
- The opening was a bit slow. He might have started a little closer to the action, perhaps when he first notices the flight attendant and the man with the cell phone.
- He starts telling the story from a first person point of view. That’s a good thing: we can identify with this kind of everyman-action hero, a mythical Bruce Willis forever on his way to visit his daughter for Christmas when he comes across Big Time Evil.
- He lets his research/assumptions show too much in the paragraph where he says Muslims have to watch porn in a mirror with their backs to the actress/ecdysiast. A nice addition might have been a short paragraph flashing back to his own investigation into Muslims and pornography, which might also have filled in some important backstory for us.
- Good use of pacing and action sequences, although I find the dialogue (“Shut up, infidel dog!”) to be a bit clichéd.
- Prior to publication, I wish he or his (internal) editor had used spellcheck or a universal search for exclamation points.
- And the big one for me: he’s fallen out of the first person POV to tell us two things: that the person with the cell phone in first class had used the phone to call an ally in coach, and that the foreigners in coach were watching pornographic movies they’d taped the night before. How could our first person narrator have known these things?
For that matter, how did Petruna come up with any of this stuff, given that he wasn’t on the plane?
But that’s the very definition of good fiction, isn’t it? Making us believe a story that comes, at least in part, out of our heads. He shouldn’t have broken that implicit contract with us by leaping into an omniscient narrator’s POV midstream to carry the story along.
Oh, and the ending stinks. He shoulda’ had the plane blow up and the hero barely get all the good guys out the emergency slide at the last minute.
All in all, I guess it’s a good action yarn but still needs a bit of weeding and pruning. Thank God for slush piles.