Style and Technique
Wiebe is well known as an author whose writing, especially his historical fiction, makes considerable demands on its readers. His novel The Blue Mountains of China (1970), for example, is a deliberately disjointed narrative, employing a variety of narrative techniques, multiple voices, and radical shifts in point of view and time. Wiebe’s stylistic variety and structural inventiveness honor serious readers for the commitment and intelligence they bring to the task.
“Where Is the Voice Coming From?” violates expectations that a reader normally brings to the reading of a short story: a beginning, middle, and end that include setting, character, and plot. Instead, Wiebe’s story begins more like an essay on the problem of story making. There are relevant quotations from philosophers Teilhard de Chardin and Aristotle and from English sociologist Arnold Toynbee. There are names and exhibits and buildings and a scattering of data that initially confuse because no context for them has yet been provided. They are just so many fragments of some event whose nature the reader can only guess, pieces of a puzzle whose final design is still a mystery.
By using this technique, Wiebe’s intent is to engage the reader as a participant in the narrator’s challenge, namely to look closely at everything from the event that may be of importance. That search for all relevant facts takes the reader past the names of Indians and police officers and past showcase exhibits and places where the action occurred, and finally ends with the discovery of the discrepancy between the picture of Almighty Voice and its accompanying descriptions. In this way, the reader has simulated and shared in the narrator’s search for meaning.
The picture stirs the narrator’s creative dissonance: the tension between his task as historical reporter and as artistic interpreter or story writer. It functions as catalyst for the conclusion of this story, an ending that shifts to a vividly descriptive style and is passionately felt and eloquently rendered. In the end, all the fragments come together to create a powerful climax in the voice of the dying Cree, making audible once more the voice of the Great Spirit of his people.