If ever there were a lesson to be learned in distinguishing between the intentions of the author and those of her protagonist, it would be within Jae’s short story, “The Morning After,” which recounts the Valentine’s Day misadventures of actress Amanda Clark. Whereas I assumed the role of the indignant reader on my first pass, pinning Amanda’s tendency to stereotype on the author herself, I found myself remorseful for my misunderstanding on the second. To my chagrin, what Jae accomplishes within the piece is the very dismantling of her protagonist’s stereotypes with a subtlety and profundity that is nothing less than masterful.
Having barely made it to the entree before ditching her dinner companion who had begun planning their future together in the midst of their first date, Amanda decides to pop in on an Anti-Valentine’s Day party, advertised on a flyer that had been placed beneath the wiper blades of her car, for a quick drink before heading home. What she doesn’t anticipate is the effect of the first “Mind Eraser” the bartender hands her or those to follow, which land her in a state of undress upon awakening the next morning in a complete stranger’s bed.
As much as I appreciated the tone and pacing of the story overall, the handling of the “morning after” was what I found to be most impressively executed. It’s as though the reader rises alongside Amanda, desperately trying to deduce where she is and how she got there. The detailed description of her surroundings — the smell of masculine cologne, the man’s watch on the nightstand — bring the story so vividly to life.
However, if one were to remain mired within the smug displeasure to which I initially clung, all of the strengths exhibited within the tale would surely be overshadowed by Amanda’s references to the person who rescued her the evening before as “the butch,” expressing surprise that she knows how to cook and just so happens to enjoy the company of children. Over the course of the morning, Amanda does begin to question her assumptions but not to a degree anywhere near true acceptance. And there we have what is known as damn good (and realistic) character development.
Initially, I was befuddled as to how Jae could have broached Amanda’s lack of respect and misguided assumptions in a way that might prove less alienating. Then, I allowed Amanda the freedom to be precisely who she is, in spite of her biases, which stuck so firmly in my craw. Although it remained a challenge to cut Amanda slack, her character arc revealed promise, which is, indeed, something.
It’s my understanding that Amanda and “the butch” appear once again in Jae’s novel, Departure from the Script, which I will no doubt purchase. Jae’s narrative is just that engaging. Thus, I am willing to give her characters the benefit of the doubt, banking on the hope that they will evolve in a manner that allows them deeper insight into themselves and one another, so they might ultimately enjoy all that resides beyond the scope of their own limited worldview.