Tuesday, February 19, 2013

non-fiction account

Into Thin Air, more so than the Annapurna texts and No Horizon is too Far, reads like fiction.  It reads at a quicker pace, focuses less on the mundane details, and often leaves the reader in suspense.  For this reason, I enjoyed Into Thin Air more than the other texts.  However, I did start to wonder how the knowledge that the book is a non-fiction account shaped my experience of the text.  And at times, the crossover between the text's non-fiction status and Jon Krakauer's storytelling techniques left me with a confused impression.  For instance, I sometimes wondered why Krakauer neglected to develop Hall, Harris’, and Hanson’s characters more.  I also found it problematic that Krakauer dedicated the book “in memory” of the deceased because I felt that it eliminated the suspense (which, retrospectively, is a pretty twisted way of thinking since suspense is typically employed to increase the reader’s enjoyment of the text and these people actually died). 

I occasionally had to remind myself that these were real events and real people, and that Krakauer’s intention was not to write a thriller but to accurately recount the disaster and imbue the story with appropriate gravity.  And, entering the story armed with the knowledge of the disaster does effectively produce an ominous and solemn air, which probably mimics Krakauer’s emotional state while writing the book.  One passage in which I really felt the effect of already knowing the outcome was when a boulder nearly killed Andy Harris on the ascent: “it had come sickeningly close to smashing into his cranium. ‘If that rock had hit me in the head…,’ Andy speculated with a grimace as he shed his pack, leaving the rest of the sentence unsaid” (157).  I found it interesting that Krakauer gave so much weight to this event when we already know that Harris dies on the descent.  But I think that this technique creates the desired effect: It makes the reader realize how he or she has subconsciously been cheering the climbers on and how emotionally invested he or she is in the fate of the climbers though their fate is pre-determined.  This makes the reader evaluate the purpose of the book.  It is not intended as an exciting adventure but instead as a means through which to convey the magnitude of the loss that resulted from the climb.  And, the effect of knowing the climbers’ fates while following them through their daily struggles creates a general feeling of helplessness.  The reader feels trapped, being constantly aware of the adventure and the outcome.  Perhaps Krakauer constructed the text in this manner because he, too, feels trapped; he must constantly replay the events in his mind, but they are different from the events as he originally experienced them since they are now viewed through his retrospective knowledge of the disaster.  The reader, like Krakauer, must constantly rationalize the expedition’s ambitions in light of the aftermath.  

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