“Yours, Etc.” is the story of a man walking around the outside of his house to ward off ghosts, while remembering people he has known who died. It is full of paragraphs like this:
He’d never found out how. He was surprised how upset he was. His wife told him again about her stand-in theory and he had said sure, maybe there was something in that. Both of them knew she didn’t mean it. She was just talking, helping him fill the empty space until he got used to the girl’s death. He thought about the girl a lot and realized that she had been alive to him, she’d encapsulated a universe in a way that he felt many of the people he knew didn’t. He’d believed in her in a way he didn’t believe in other people.
The use of so many sentences starting with pronouns has, I think, two effects, both of which interact with the effect of the story’s fantastic component. The first effect is that the pronouns personalise the story; almost everything that happens is defined in terms of how it affects either the protagonist’s emotions or his actions. In fact, the story has almost no context beyond the personal. We never learn much about where the protagonist lives, for instance. The second effect is that the repetition (which reflects the repetitiveness of the protagonist’s actions, walking around and around his house) becomes numbing, and contributes to the affectless tone of most of the story. It is a very interior story, but almost every emotion is held at arm’s length from us; we are not invited in to share them.
And both these effects tend to damp down our reaction to anything external to the protagonist — the characters feel (to me) quite clearly contemporary in their thoughts and reactions, but the landscape they exist in is vague — but in particular, they damp down our reaction to the story’s fantastic component. The ghosts the protagonist sees are a regular feature of his life; just another part of the landscape. Or, to put it another way, the fantastic in “Yours, Etc” is not handled in the way that it is handled in a story like “The Guardian of the Egg”. In Grant’s story, reality is more dreamlike than ours to start with; the everyday concerns never arise. The protagonist wears a pair of antlers to work for a day and nobody notices. But the story’s style enables it to retain a connection to human experience nonetheless.
So far so good. The construction of the story is neat on other levels, as well: the protagonist is specifically aiming to ward ghosts away from his wife, who is inside the house writing letters (to ghosts). The reflection of the emotional separation of the two characters in their physical separation is effective — there are a couple of remembered conversations, but the two don’t come together in the present tense of the story until the very end. And there is a neat shift in tone as this happens; those personal statements shift from what the protagonist doesn’t know or isn’t certain about to what he does know and is certain about — “He would not disappear. This was his wife. This was his life. This was his path around his house. His home.”
It’s satisfying, but not a story I have any urge to re-read; I don’t feel there’s more to be mined from a repeat visit. Which is odd, because the style and tone of the story is reminiscent of Gavin J. Grant’s earlier “Heads Down, Thumbs Up“. That story (which is excellent, and which you should read right now
because as far as I know the SciFiction archive is still due to be taken down at the end of the year [see comments, again]) felt as though it was written with deliberate gaps: answers and understanding open to our interpretation, which of course will be different for every person every time the story is read. “Yours, Etc.” feels to start with as though it’s intended in the same way, but the ambiguity doesn’t matter in the way that it matters to “Heads Down, Thumbs Up”, it doesn’t offer the same interpretive richness; the protagonist asserts himself, he is led into the house by his wife, and the story is over.