Course: Short Story
Name: Isaac Bedell
DURATION OF EXAM: 90 minutes
NO BOOKS, NOTES, OR ELECTRONIC DEVICES ALLOWED
Please read the instructions for this examination carefully before beginning. Note that some of the questions might suggest an overlap of answers. You can discuss similar events, but NOT the same aspect of those events. In other words, do not duplicate your answers.
Short Essays (each question is worth 20 points)
Describe the plot in 50 words or less.
Isaac Bedell, born in Tenafly (a fairly nondescript suburb of New Jersey), is raised by a pair of chemical engineers who do not believe in a higher power. His teen years are filled with apocalyptic visions — skyscrapers falling from the sky, armies of rats gnawing on fields of wheat, whales swallowing the sea. He decides to bury barrels of provisions and portents in his backyard, even though his parents instruct him otherwise. He never follows instructions, advice, or societal norms. He has a dream that suggests the cause of his death.
What quirks shape your main character?
Isaac finds himself obsessed by the number three, and at age 21, this develops into a superstition that permeates his daily activities. When he pulls into parking lots, he always searches for the third space, counting in thirds. When this becomes impossible, he circles the lot, waiting for a car in the proper numbered alignment to exit. Isaac also loves concerts, pop performers such as Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Imagine Dragons. When he purchases his concert tickets, he not only purchases seat number three or a multiple of it, but he also makes sure to sit in the third row (or a multiple-of-three-row). Isaac rarely sets an alarm because he works at home writing personal ads for people who do not know how to flair their words in a certain direction to catch a proper mate, a job that doesn’t require him to show up at an exact moment. When he does set an alarm to wander in his backyard to check on the stashes saved for catastrophes, he sets it to a time that contains the number three, like 6:33am, when he mistakenly imagines that birds are his only witness.
What is the inciting incident?
A dream. Yeah, yeah, I remember you said a dream is a cheat of an inciting incident, but for real, this is what happens to Isaac. On the eve of his 27th birthday, he dreams about his cousin Penny who lives next door to him, had the same first grade teacher who gave them both gold stars for reaching the top of the reading tree, and taught him how to play “Blowing in the Wind'' on his first acoustic guitar. In the dream, Penny stands in his backyard, holding a shovel covered with newly dug dirt, her head tilted back so her eyes aim towards the sky, smiling that gotyou smirk that seriously bugs the shit out of Isaac. He is too polite to ever tell her that. Their conversation goes like this (yeah I memorized it because it felt so real). “You’re a lunatic,” she says. “Look.” Penny stares down into a barrel shaped hole, arching her back causing her pigtails to flip forward. She points at a steel container. “You have twenty of these buried in the yard. What is in them?” Isaac answers, “provisions and portents.” The dream abruptly ends with Penny saying, “It’s that kind of nonsense that’s going to get you killed by a maniac’s bullet.” This moment — clearly building upon his earlier history with numbers — spurs Isaac to become a preacher, a doomsday prophet who predicts the collapse of civilization. If asked, Isaac would give no explanation for this chosen path, explaining that he awoke, felt the pressure of time, and knew he needed to warn people about their future.
What is your story’s primary conflict?
If you are meaning ‘primary,’ as in, the first time Isaac ever felt conflicted, then it probably is when he turned three and his parents insisted he needed to finally learn to use a bathroom; Isaac preferred the touch of his mother as she changed his diaper. The story doesn’t explicitly state this, but I remember your lesson on psychological criticism, so I wanted to let you know I did pay attention even though I often appeared to be staring out the windows of the classroom. I’m thinking, though, you probably mean primary, as in, central, to which I say: Isaac is driven by visions of the world ending because of greed and an abyss of despair; however, Isaac is a dreamer at heart, since his parents were not only chemical engineers, but also fostered puppies abandoned by shitheads who deserve to perish in the apocalypse, puppies who had their own private fenced in section of the yard with lush grass for frolicking, separate from Isaac’s burial ground. Isaac wants to have faith that good will triumph, but after the dream, the one with his cousin Penny, he finds himself spiraling into constant worry.
Discuss the story’s theme.
I have had trouble with this concept for my entire life. I know you told us that a story can have numerous themes, that there’s not one right answer, that sometimes what happened to us recently, like losing a job or attending a funeral and standing beside a huge hole in the earth might influence our reading of theme. So, I will give it my best shot. Here goes.