“Incarnations of Burned Children”, David Foster Wallace

…the Daddy moving quickly and well and his man’s mind empty of everything but purpose, not yet aware of how smoothly he moved or that he’d ceased to hear the high screams because to hear them would freeze him and make impossible what had to be done to help his child, whose screams were as regular as breath and went on so long they’d already become a thing in the kitchen, something else to move quickly around.

This part of Wallace’s story really affected me. For the last three years I have been employed at a childcare facility. I’ve been recruited to make “ouchies” go away more times than I can remember, but I hadn’t dealt with a serious injury until last summer. My favorite child, Ariel, fell off of a playground and broke his arm. In that moment, everyone panicked. Each one of my coworkers froze as they watched him lay on the ground, and before I knew what I was doing, I had him in my arms. His screams were nothing more than whispers in my ear; his tears were nothing but water. All I could think of was how long it would take the ambulance to get him, and how worried his parents would be. This story, though much more severe, hit a nerve inside of me. It forced me to realize that when a shocking situation takes place and people are put under pressure, the intensity causes them to remove their emotion from what is happening and act off of instinct.

I also noticed that the sentence lengths in this story really evoke the emotions that these parents are feeling. They are long, rambling thoughts that seem to trip over themselves because of how quickly they move. Wallace’s technique matched the mood perfectly; his writing sped up and slowed down in all the right places. Though it was horribly shocking, “Incarnations of Burned Children” was an eye-opening, exciting story.

Roberta Desiderio

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