Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

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“These Hands” opens with a self-reflexive reference to the teller of the story itself: “The protagonist of this story is named Lewis Winters. He is also its narrator, and he is also me.” The technique that changes the story from simply one in which a man feels paternal love toward an eighteenth-month-old baby is Lewis’s use of such words as “lover” and “my love” to refer to the baby Caroline. Because such terms are usually reserved for adults, the story could be taken initially for one in which Lewis has a Lolita-like sexual love for the infant. Although Lewis says at the beginning of the story that this is not one of his fairy tales, his use of several fairy-tale motifs challenges a possible sexual misinterpretation of the story.

Lewis uses several fairy-tale references to help him understand his love for Caroline. For example, he tells the story of a man who grows so fond of the sky that he makes a kite out of his heart and sails it into the sky. Never looking down for fear that he might be pulled to earth, he sails the world. Talking about love, Lewis says, is like the story he is telling, for it is always difficult to articulate what love really means. Lewis creates fairy tales that feature Caroline as an innocent who is able to see the imaginary constructs of fairy tales as if they were of the physical world. In one such story, Caroline floats around in a giant bubble and sees a man’s heart sail by like a kite.

Another technique Brockmeier uses in the story is the list that Lewis makes about his relationship with Caroline, in which he itemizes the number of days he has known her, the number of puzzles he has constructed with her, the number of diapers he has changed, the number of lies he has told the reader, the number of times he has dreamed about Caroline, and more. The list suggests that Lewis sees all the events of his life solely in terms of his relationship with Caroline, for nothing else seems important to him.

The story ends with Lewis dreaming that Caroline is beside him and that they pull to the side of a quiet street and lie across the hood of the car, watching the stars and soaring red airplanes above, asking which is the more beautiful and which is the more true. This reference to English poet John Keats’s notion of “Truth is Beauty, Beauty is Truth,” suggests the ultimate idealism of Lewis’s love for the child.

Although Brockmeier is compared with writers such as T. C. Boyle, Steven Millhauser, and George Saunders for his fantasy constructions, his work is sweeter than theirs; there is no smirking satire here, and there are no intellectual puzzles or metafictional mysteries. Instead, his stories explore an adult nostalgia for the fantasies of childhood, whether they came from the Bible or the Brothers Grimm. Without lapsing into the simplistic or the sentimental, “These Hands” evokes a basic human desire to recall that childhood realm of fairy tale, which, even as it seemed fantastic, embodies truths more profound than those evoked in the news that lands daily on people’s doorsteps.