Eleanor Elliot picked up the morning newspaper, read a few columns and glanced at a couple of comics before turning to a section she never
missed -- the obituaries. She skimmed over the names until her eyes fell upon a familiar one. There it was in black and white: Eleanor K. Elliot, aged 79, passed away Wednesday around 3:00 a.m.
A moment of disbelief in reading her own obituary gave way to the anger in its brevity. How could her rich, full life be condensed into eight short paragraphs? It was wrong, all wrong. So Eleanor grabbed her journal and began the revision of her own obituary.
And so begins Dorothy E. Lee's telling of the life of her fictional
character, Eleanor K. Elliot. And "telling" is the key word here. Students of writing know that one of the first things instructors, authors, editors, agents, reviewers, and anyone else critiquing someone's writing will say is "Show, donıt tell." The Revision is a perfect example of what they instruct us not to do. As we follow Eleanor's life from childhood to old age, a life that probably was rich and full, it is like reading an obituary. We are told that Eleanor worked for a summer in a factory during World War II and that it was hot and that the men who worked there were rude to their women co-workers, but we don't experience any of it with her. We
know that Eleanor liked to travel, but all we received were postcard
descriptions of what she saw. And while Ms. Lee does not shrink from
reporting to us anatomical details of Eleanor's first sexual experience, we only know it was a satisfying one due to phrases like "she exploded inside" and "it was like she had died--and gone to heaven."
Many of Eleanor's activities could have been excluded from the book, but to give her such a rich and full life, Ms. Lee must have felt the need to cram every bit of it into her book. By doing so, something had to give, and in this case, it was those details that showed its vitality. Much happened in the United States during Eleanor's lifetime, things that those of us born too late experience through reading. Unfortunately The Revision doesn't allow us to. Perhaps if Ms. Lee took a cue from her book's title, instead of reading like an obituary, Eleanor Elliotıs story could come to life.