Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Ecco” exemplifies many of the techniques for which Sukenick is known—self-reflexiveness, improvisation, protean characters, a disjointed narrative, and an autobiographical touch. Although “Ecco” has no characters named Ronald, its narrator is—like Sukenick himself—a divorced middle-aged writer who has visited Venice several times.

Self-reflexiveness—having a text comment on its own making or otherwise making readers aware of its construction as a literary artifact—manifests itself in several ways. First, parenthetical observations are constantly in the foreground of the physical scenes that the narrator observes, contrasting his own thoughts with the activities that he sees. When he thinks of Venice, for example, “a city so full of thereness your presence isn’t necessary,” he sees a houseful of furniture floating by on a boat. Such descriptions seem improvised, written as the narrator glances out the window, and break the expected narrative flow. Second, the narrator routinely analyzes his own activity, his own thoughts and reactions, directing the narrative to himself: “You recall yourself . . . you decide . . . you’re walking . . . you see . . . you wonder . . . you are content.” The insistent use of present tense also calls attention to a text in the process of being constructed, of coming into being as the reader reads.

Although the characters in “Ecco” are less complex—and thus more easily identified—than those in much of Sukenick’s work, there is nonetheless a sense of changeableness, of flux, of uncertainty about them that seems almost disturbing, owing at least in part to the apparent lack of traditional linear narrative. However, despite parenthetical interruptions and shifts in time from a present being lived by his past self who glimpses his future self, and a present being lived by his present self, who has glimpses of his younger self, a chronological narrative gradually emerges, constructed by the reader’s attempts to understand a seemingly confusing text. Sukenick has said that “experience is not prefab. It is immediate, metamorphic, and unpredictable.” His aim is not to produce “literature,” which packages and fixes experience, but rather to produce writing. Writing “is not different from experience, it is more experience.” With “Ecco” Sukenick once again achieves his aim.