Assigned as a reading for my WRI370: Writing about Place class, “Story A: Story B” is an essay by Gideon Lewis-Kraus that contradicts most of the teaching we’ve received in English class: sometimes a story is just a story—as entertaining or tragic as they can be.
While our academic inclination leads us to believe everything in a book has a symbolic meaning—perhaps on a hidden truth about life and the human condition—not every story has a profound or deeper meaning.
Traditionally, we are taught to look critically at every object, every character, every action since they are purposely chosen and crafted to tell a certain narrative which furthers our understanding of some motif.
Authors are usually quite selective in the visuals and diction used throughout a piece to produce a good story. When dissecting even the simplest imagery, we must uncover the author’s intention. A dying flower is never just a dying flower, it symbolizes the fragility of human life or the temporality of beauty.
In his essay, Lewis-Kraus presents us with two stories. Story A is his understanding and perception of the meaning of the story, whereas Story B is the factual side; the truth.
The premise of the story is that the protagonist is a journalist who goes to Japan looking for meaning within a hole-digging competition, so he can write-off the trip as a business expense. However, after spending the day observing the competition, he realizes that the competition is exactly what it claims to be: a hole-digging competition.
Much like the protagonist, I initially tried to find a more meaningful interpretation of the story.
Perhaps the hole-digging competition is a metaphor for how everyone should try to dig deeper to uncover an underlying truth. Maybe the way the diggers dug the hole speaks to the different kinds of people in the world: some focus on the depth, others on the breadth, and then there are those who find a balance between both.
Alternatively, the condition of the soil could represent the imbalance at birth, where how far you go is dependent on your birth. Life is part luck and good fortune. Those born with good soil, go further than those stuck in the rubble.
These interpretations, while true to my schooling and efforts to finding ‘the real story,’ were false. The moral is quite simple: some stories are just entertaining.
The primary characteristic of a good story does not lie in its ability to state an unknown truth, but in its capacity to entertain and capture the attention of the readers.
For writers, particularly those plagued by the rules, this essay is freeing. It serves as a reminder to writers that not all stories need to be deep; they only need to be interesting. Lewis-Kraus delivers this message potently by showcasing the point of his essay through an interesting story about hole-digging.
You can find “Story A: Story B” on Harper’s Magazine.