Meneese Wall’s story, “Behind Closed Doors”, is an exercise in just how much can be revealed through conversation. Reading a story like this, one is reminded of Quinten Tarentino movies like Reservoir Dogs, like Pulp Fiction, where the action often takes a back seat to what is being said and, crucially, how it’s being communicated. A story like “Behind Closed Doors” reads very easily, quickly, but it also shows us much more about character and story than it seems to. By operating almost exclusively on the level of dialogue, Wall expertly uses subtext and our own ability to infer from limited information to give us a full story through a single conversation.
Subtext – Noticing it without Noticing
The first to speak is the woman, whose first line of dialogue is to shoo away the man who is lingering on the other side of a door. There is no orientation, no grounding, in this story, so it’s up to us to figure out where the door is, what the situation is. The physical elements of the story unfold over time, but already in the first section we’re able to pull quite a lot of information out of the back-and-forth. This couple, we infer, have known each other for some time. There are references to parents, to old grievances, and also the kind of instant forgiveness that comes with time. We're able to glean all of this from just a few lines of dialogue, which makes the story all the more interesting.
Back and forth
Another element that makes "Behind Closed Doors" work well is its use of tagless dialogue. Most often, the reader isn't even cued as to who is talking, the words just come rapid-fire in quotes. Thanks to the way their voices are inhabited and developed, it's never problematic. Sometimes, when this method is used it's difficult to figure out who is talking. But in this story, the tete-e-tete is backed up by strong, individual voices of each of the characters. Wall is able to tell the reader who is talking merely by the way they talk, their word choice, and what they choose to speak about. This back-and-forth makes the story read quite rapidly and it allows readers to feel like they're part of the action.
Intimacy through words
The way this works, giving us intimate insight into the lives of people without a single physical description, is because it mirrors real life. Language dominates relationships, and this fictional one is no exception - we can tell by the rapidity of the dialogue, the subject choice, and the particulars of word choice, that this couple knows one another incredibly well. Because we're not bogged down by physical description, we can get a sense of their relationship very quickly, without having to worry about who is where and what they look like. Dialogue is instantly recognizable in a way that physicality is not - people might not look like us, they might be in a different part of the world, but verbal communication is universal. It allows us to connect with these characters instantly, with almost no information about who they are, where they are, and what their histories are. It's what makes the story work in such a small amount of time.
About the author
Meneese Wall amalgamates various avocations inside her Santa Fe crucible – writer, graphic artist & designer, domestic slave, healthcare guru, wife, and mother to a catalytic daughter (not necessarily in that order). More of her creative dexterity can be found on her website.