Yet another twisted excuse to tell some personal tale in the guise of a book report, today’s story is about perspective.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I briefly dated a girl a couple of years younger than me. She was a virgin, and operating under a very twisted set of rules imposed on her by her friends. The women in our circle of friends, being older and supposedly wiser, had convinced her that if she started her senior year of high school as a virgin, she would remain so until she graduated (or started college, I can’t remember which). Apparently one or maybe two of the women had experienced this phenomenon, or knew a friend who had, or a friend of a friend, but you get the point. The apocryphal was taken as gospel.
Well, this was the summer before her senior year, so this girl was trying very hard to get laid. She had set her sights on me, and had told me as much. The thing is, and this is something that took me years to learn, when one tries really hard to get something, but doesn’t actually know how to go about getting it, it will either remain elusive, or it will be attained in a way one didn’t intend, or expect, or necessarily desire. (The loss of my own virginity is definitely a case in point, but that’s a different story.)
So, the night she and I finally got together and it was going to happen, she informs me that the night before, in a drunken haze, she had lost her virginity to some other guy. I had missed my chance.
This is the closest I had come (or ever will) to taking someone’s cherry, and for years I thought of it as if I’d been the heir apparent, usurped by an interloper. But I was reminiscing recently with one of my oldest friends, and happened to broach this subject, and he informed me that in the autumn previous to that summer he had had the exact same opportunity, with the same girl, and for reasons I won’t go into, it never came about. So, in a sense, he’d had the first crack at her, to put it bluntly, and I was just an also-ran who never placed or even showed.
Talk about a different perspective on things. That’s one of the great things about having an old friend like this—he and I experienced many of the same events for many years, and hearing his view of them makes me understand the events, and my skewed, singular perspective of them, more wholly.
Orson Scott Card has returned to the well of what is arguably his most popular work, Ender’s Game. But rather than write yet another sequel (of which there are three already, which decline steadily in appeal and importance), Card went back to the beginning, to the events of Ender’s Game, and recaptured them from a totally different perspective, that of the most brilliant general under Ender’s command, Bean. Card calls this not a companion, but a “parallax” novel, a term that is both scientifically and literarily apropos. (Of course, the publisher doesn’t get it and uses a term similar in spelling but totally inaccurate in meaning—parallel—on the cover.)
In Ender’s Shadow we learn of Bean’s difficult infancy, and his selection for Battle School at the unheard-of age of four. (For those who have not read Ender’s Game, Battle School students usually begin around eight years old—teaching children to fight being one of the results of a protracted interstellar war.) Bean advances rapidly and becomes a master strategist, all the while laboring under the constant comparisons with the boy he hero-worships, Ender. Which suddenly brings to mind a question that hadn’t occurred to me until I finished the book: is “Ender’s Shadow” Bean himself, as he studies his elder’s every move—or is it the darkness cast by Ender’s towering reputation? (Knowing Card’s penchant for meaningful names, I’m sure the double entendre is intentional and is part of the reason he approved what was not his original title.)
The book could have been a simple rehash, a crass attempt at merely selling more books, but Card has done an excellent job of finding Bean’s individual voice, that unique perspective, and illustrating the seeming contradictions that can arise when two points of view converge on a single event.