Story: “The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper”
Author: Linda Simoni-Wastila
Magazine: SmokeLong Quarterly
Blogger: A. Schafer
“The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper“ by Linda Simoni-Wastila is instantly engaging, and the attraction I felt at the beginning held steadfast up to the last word of the story. Simoni-Wastila’s attention to detail works double-duty in this short story, developing the main character, Jeremiah, as well as connecting elements of the story over different segments of the sniper’s life. In the third paragraph, Simoni-Wastila packs a concise but revealing amount of detail into Jeremiah’s backstory, especially in the first line; “When he was 17, Jeremiah packed up his crossbow, arrows, and guitar and took Sheila up to the foothills that curved down to the edge of the farm.” Simoni-Wastila establishes a concrete sense of place and character and introduces a new relationship between two characters all in one line. Although the story boasts a separate official opening, in my mind this is where the story really begins.
Simoni-Wastila develops the relationship introduced in the third paragraph in an intricate way, using the love of two characters to set up the rest of the essential relationships in the story. Simoni-Wastila’s strategy takes shape with the line, “he thought of Maryam then, of the way she chewed the wooden end of the brush when contemplating a painting, of Martin watching him teach John power chords on the guitar, and for the first time since he arrived in Afghanistan, Jeremiah felt the space in his chest swell.” It is this passage that introduces the reader to the feelings Jeremiah has for Maryam, critically shaping a major conflict in the limited space the writer employs. This allows Simoni-Wastila to phrase the line in Self-Criticism so succinctly; “after the baby died, after Sheila left.”
Simoni-Wastila’s organizational mastery provides effective character development despite the shortened length, and brings forth necessary details in refreshing ways. From the sniper terminology to the type of bread Jeremiah is eating, the story is rich with description, and communicates remarkably deeply, due in part to Simoni-Wastila’s reiteration of images. One line, however, mystified me, and I was unable to fully understand its influence in the story, despite my continuing assurance that it played an important purpose. In the opening, Simoni-Wastila writes, “All three sons forgot about the pistol, although they knew it was kept in a box with a combination lock for safe-keeping. The mother did not forget about the pistol.” In this parable-style opening, I find it difficult to ignore that Jeremiah forgot about the weapon that the father kept for protection, not hunting, and I wonder about its message regarding Jeremiah’s plight in the conclusion. Despite my lack of wisdom in interpreting this matter, I found the entire story flowed like a much longer tale, due to Simoni-Wastila’s reiteratino of images and concise, revealing details.