Date of Award
College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts
Creative writing, Fiction
This dissertation collects two novellas, Olly Olly Oxen Free and Attributions, both experiments in what the accompanying critical apparatus terms “fiction of worlds within worlds.”
An exploration of the experience of grief, Olly Olly Oxen Free moves between a reality in which the protagonist’s mother has died and alternative realities in which she is still alive. Mourning, the book premises, is often a novelistic endeavor, a years-long project of imagining other worlds in which things went differently and people absent from this reality still live and strive. Entering these worlds, the novella explores the imaginative life of grief and the gravity such alternative realities exert on our own. Disjunctive by design, the novella conducts a formal experiment in narrative adhesion, testing what gives profluence and purpose to a story that moves among contradictory realities.
By compiling a grandson’s play script, a father’s TV screenplay, and a grandfather’s poetry into a larger story, Attributions traces the Anshel family’s self-made mythology through three generations. The novella seeks to reveal how these men, in telling the story of their family’s persecution during and after the Holocaust, have created stories that excuse their own aggression, attributing their personal violence to historical inheritance. Meant as a critique of the ideological uses of backstory in contemporary fiction, where revelations about a character’s past justify present behavior, Attributions is also an earnest exploration of how lasting trauma can shape behavior and the narrativization of experience. As each generation’s experience becomes a mythology that the next generation receives and retells, the Anshel family emerges as a vexed and ideological world of worlds.
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Received from author
Mayer, Mark, "Olly Olly Oxen Free" (2019). Restricted Access ETDs. 71.