The Fugue, a short historical fiction fit for readers who like the thrill of mixed events while jumping back and fourth in time. Arna Hemenway relived the past through the perspective of a veteran soldier named Wild Turkey. The protagonist showed a very unusual and challenging role in the story for narrating his life by juggling the memories of his pre-war and current life experiences. The author exhibits the idea of a distinct military strategy like setting up an Iraqi village with real Iraqi people but assigned with designated parts to trigger actual warfare maneuvers. Having such horrifying encounters, Wild Turkey has manifested symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. This tolls a great impact in Wild Turkey’s mentality. The story is made up of varying snippets of certain scenes in his life—during war, being with his lover, rough childhood, post-war shenanigans etc. It leaps from some fragments of Wild Turkey’s life in present time and sometimes also in the past or a mixture of both. Thus, giving him an unfocused lens in viewing what’s real or make-believe memories. Hemenway’s way of tackling the psychological perspective generates a complicated, yet different kind of read for the audience. The theme of the story highlighted how the human mind can lost the ability to distinct between real and fake memories over time through the character of Wild Turkey being overwhelmed and confused with his own thoughts.
The story can be very challenging to read because of the language used by the author. It contains words that are not commonly used in English. It makes it hard for a reader to connect with the story which is a very important aspect to fully grasp the meaning of it. Also, the structure is written in a tangle of multiple mixed memories in different timeline of the character’s life. Like in the beginning of the story when Wild Turkey’s wandering in an old, abandoned classroom one morning when he starts to feel a tedious familiarity:
“Wild Turkey is used to his life proceeding this way: this or that detail of his day stepping down out of some first world of previous essential experience. These sensate allusions are always only whiffs or pale imitations of the original, in the same way that the rainy, pallid light now breaking from the clouds as the morning regains its heat is cousin to the small fist of bright fire over the limbs of the girl in Ramadi, or the rhythmic flash of the tactical’s grenade phosphorus strobe, and all three are mere shavings of the pure white lightning of one of Wild turkey’s fits” (102).
Such description of mixed conception in the now, the war or even a certain incident in the past suggests that memories can be mixed together resulting to a huge mess in the story. Although, the way it is written also showed a hint about a fascinating subject—memories. Through this quote, the author explained that memories will not be as exact as what had actually happened. Using the word “allusions” supports that memories are just passing reference to the true events of what the character has encountered. There is a possibility that a memory can be mistaken for another moment or it could be fused together with a different one depending on how it imitates the original. Over time, memories build up and it become hard to identify or distinguish. It is indeed difficult to read because of the notion of recognizing real events in the process of recalling them. This is quite compelling because the author had the same experience with Wild Turkey. When Hemenway was writing the story, he mentioned that he has been caught up with his own web of memories. Telling in his notes that he had a series of unfortunate events—having a newborn with extreme eating difficulty that made him awake every night, graduate school story that needs to be submitted and an intensive research about Iraq war caused him to be sleep-deprived. Thus, making him lost in his own mind. Hemenway even said in his notes, “in the dissociated hallucinations of my sleepless state, my research, my memories, dreams, and present reality become somewhat indistinguishable from one another” (360). This made me wonder if this reflects something in the character of Wild Turkey. In my perspective, the author’s confession truly brought the protagonist’s character into life. This leaves me to the question—Are our own memories real or are we just imagining these memories in our head?
In the story, Wild Turkey shows a constant battle within his mind about memories he’s not quite sure of, which leads to a great confusion. Most of it are seen when he’s narrating his life about the events that have happened in his war ventures from military training to post-war experiences. One of which is when he was participating in a mock training exercise for a war in Iraq: “They are in Arizona… listening to the grumbling of the other guys on the team, and watches the mud ruins (fake? real?) seep with the grains and blue of the thin winter sunset” (110). This shows that even in Wild Turkey’s own self, he’s uncertain of incidents that has happened in his life. Indicating words like “fake” and “real” in a questioning manner show how Wild Turkey’s being skeptical about his own memory of the training. Truly, the character of Wild Turkey portrays a sense of disconnection with oneself which most people might find very relatable. It makes the character in the story very much like a normal person for humans can be confused with their own thoughts sometimes. In addition, describing the scene as mud “ruins” or in other terms collapsing, along with the sunset strongly illustrates how a part of Wild Turkey’s memories can be altered by his own mind. The memory is like a scene from a film being played and slowly collapsing as it ends. It’s like the memory is there but the person can reconstruct what really happened. Also, one situation in the present time where Wild Turkey and his veteran friend are out doing shooting in a wide field shows how the protagonist’s mind can be so malleable: “…though since Wild Turkey has never actually seen Normandy in winter he supposes to really just resembles what he thinks it would look like. He wants it to look like Normandy..” (116). This passage made it even clearer that somehow the mind can recreate things from previous experiences. It produces certain imagination from the past that results to a disruption of the present event. Wild Turkey has never seen Normandy but he forces his mind to make the place similar to it. How is this possible? One reason might be because he confuses it to other places that look like Normandy but it wasn’t really Normandy. Who knows?
Furthermore, the story becomes more fascinating because of the idea that the mind can be susceptible to confusion. The author’s integration of factual military strategy of creating a mock war situation in Iraq fabricates a different kind of illusion in the story. It reveals how hard it is to differentiate fake memories from real ones. While Wild Turkey is in training for the war in Iraq, the author clearly described how the mind can misperceive reality: “[…]the fake village, meant to be simulation but really more of a simulacrum, a psychological agent at play in the men’s imagination” (110). This passage is very interesting for it is so complex yet it unravels some truth about how the mind works. The fake village is part of the training strategy that imitates war-like situation in order to prepare soldiers like Wild Turkey for the actual war. However, looking beneath the surface, it suggests even a deeper meaning. The word “simulacrum” suggests that the fake village could represent something more than just training. It can be a product of imagination. Again, it can be something that Wild Turkey’s mind has created. Could this be like what the author had experienced when he stated that somehow his dreams, hallucinations, and whatnot has become very unclear to him? Can it be that the character of Wild Turkey reflects the human mind like Hemenway’s? Moreover, another misconception of memories is shown while Wild Turkey is still participating in the training: ”the fake funeral not so much a simulation of a memorial service..but a reenactment of it, a doubling, technically a recurrence” (115). The passage implies that the training is true to life but it’s provoking the mind to remember it as an imagination of what’s the war actually going to be. The mind wants the memories to be recognized as being false when it is actually true. This really makes a big ball of confusion.
Altogether, the story leads to the perspective that there’s really a thin line on how the mind remembers what truly happened and what it think happened. The vulnerability of the mind is dramatically shown in this story. It’s like a game on trusting our own minds. Truly, this text is superbly written for it makes a reader wonder how humans do own their memories but still have little control over it because they can be stuck in their own understanding of what exactly are “real” memories. Aren’t we just overwhelmed? Unsure? Confused? —about our own experiences. Indeed, “The Fugue” is a brilliant and quite an accomplished story that stirs to mind-boggling ideas that will make a reader question his own mind.
Hemenway, Arna. “The Fugue.” The Best American Short Stories 2015, edited by T.C. Boyle and Heidi Pitlor, Mariner, 2015, pp. 100-120, 360.