2012 essay entries were asked to answer one of the following questions:
- How did the journal format affect your response to the story?
- What is the meaning of the spacecraft in the novel?
Entries were reviewed by members of The Tale for Three Counties Council who received copies of the submissions in which the writer’s identity and location were not included. Judges then voted for which entries they liked the best; the six highest vote getters were selected as winners. Tale council judged nine reviews, three entries were not received in time to be considered.
2012- The Winners
Here are the winning entries in alphabetical order
Sue Briggs, Stafford
The novel “The Call” by Yannick Murphy tells the story of a rural veterinarian, his family, neighbors and the animals in his care. Just as we are about to settle down for a nostalgic, comfy read, David, the veterinarian, sees a spaceship in the sky on his way home from a call, and we realize that this book is a far cry from James Herriot.
David spots the spaceship periodically, as he struggles to deal with his son’s hunting accident an subsequent coma. He is obsessed with finding the hunter who injured his son, and believes that the spaceship knows who that might be. As his thoughts veer wildly from suspect to suspect, he imagines the spaceship as a haven for his family, a divine sanctuary where his son will recover.
As David tries to maintain his grip on reality, the spaceship serves as a symbol of hope, not evidence of insanity. Its lights guide him through troubled times, and as he muses in his truck on the way home from a call, if you believe in a spaceship, you can believe in anything.
Mary Ellen Casey, Stafford
In “The Call,” Yannick Murphy marries themes of love and evolution to create a hopeful vision for the future of mankind, masterfully imagined as a spaceship hovering over a veterinarian’s family home in New England.
It is the wife’s spaceship, her unconditional love, that binds the family together. Her sacrifices transform them all into more loving human beings. She teases them with “transmissions” from a staticky radio to help with chores. She imagines it taking them to a place of peace.
Her husband finds comfort in the spaceship. A scientist, he believes in evolution and that’s what happens to him! Through love, he evolves spiritually from a man desperate to find the hunter who shut his son, to a man who can selflessly donate a kidney and then forgive the shooter.
The space is love and it can transport all of nature to a warm place of peace.
Meghan Hauser, Perry
David Appleton’s life is ordered, with every detail from vet calls to family arguments precisely noted in his log. However, this order disintegrates when David’s son Sam is shot. As he becomes obsessed with finding the shooter, the spacecraft, initially a family joke, becomes David’s focus. Appleton begins to believe that if he can contact the craft, he can uncover the shooter and use this knowledge to somehow save Sam.
When the spacecraft does arrive, instead of answers, it brings more chaos in the form of an alien – David’s biological son. And when this desperate spaceman-son pleads for help, David can save him. By delivering the unexpected gift of another son in need, the craft blasts away David’s frustration and impotence. The resulting peace of mind lets David appreciate the life he has and allows him to restore balance to the Appleton family universe.
Eleanor Jacobs, Perry
I love these people, the Appletons. Their quirkiness, such as their fixation on the spacecraft did not seem farfetched. It made me wish I knew them. But I do know people like them. My older brother, for instance, believes children love to be fooled. Jen’s supposed transmissions from the spacecraft, calling for a head potty cleaner, tease her daughters.
For David the spacecraft offers hope that there’s more to life – a bigger adventure than tending animals and odd people. In part, the spacecraft offers an escape from the world’s injustices, including plastic jars with concave bottoms. Who hasn’t been irritated with that?
David, though he knows otherwise, thinks the spacecraft may help identify Sam’s shooter. Or maybe “the wife” can “save them all and take them up in the spacecraft.”
The repetitive structure of the journal mirrors the monotony David at times seems to feel. It also makes the passage of time elusive. With no dates, as generally give in a journal, time is vague, though seasons pass. How long was Sam in a coma?
David sums up his life, the spacecraft, time’s elusiveness and family survival when he says “What is taking place is as layered as something in nature. I won’t ever be able to figure it out.”
Marcia Riley, Batavia
Like the Captain’s Log on the Starship Enterprise, David’s log in “The Call” beamed me aboard the Starship…Reality!
At first, the style felt disorienting, but once I realized that the book would hold true to the format, I fell into it quickly and with a satisfying sense of being the observer. I couldn’t long remained detached as a reader, since the very objectivity of the style mirrors a surreal, floating-on-top-of-it-all sense of disconnection I personally feel when needled by issues that stubbornly hover on the outskirts of my consciousness and never completely dissipate. David wrestled with his fair share of angst – producing distractions that might…or might never…resolve themselves. Although some tolerate life without a “bottom line,” I don’t think David and I fall into that category. The Spaceship’s continued mystery is a sharp reminder to me that “Starship Reality” doesn’t always provide neat and tidy endings and that some things are just never meant to be known. Ouch.
David Stevens, Le Roy
The meaning of the spaceship is that even extraterrestrial beings yearn to communicate with other members in the community of the living. This interpretation is supported by David the veterinarian when he says of the spaceship that “I felt that it knew me somehow.”
David’s experiences with animals are a constant reminder of the fragility of life. It is the awareness of this fragility that is expressed by the great care shown by David’s family in “avoiding breaking spanning cobwebs in our way.” The hunting accident which puts David’s son into a coma is an especially difficult reminder of the fragility of all living beings. It is this very same fragility that animals and humans share with the occupants of the spaceship.
Therefore the spaceship is the symbol of the community of the living. Its presence means that even alien beings from outer space are not alone in this cold unfeeling universe. As a veterinarian Dave is more aware of the spaceship than others because his work with animals make him more sensitive to the interrelations among members of the living community. It is that sensitivity that leads him to ask: “Did the alpaca want to tell me he has seen the object in the sky?”
Diane Chamberlain, Silver Springs
Journal entries gave a rhythmic flow to the tale that was calming even during a crisis. Instead of worrying about Sam’s recovery, I always felt he would come out of his coma because of this cadence. It seemed natural that he would recover. Shortly after the spaceman arrived, the story played crescendo, such as a passage in music. As the intensity of the plot increased, the entries had more words to describe emotion. However, I didn’t find any greater depth of passion for the spaceman than there was for Sam because of the increased narrative. And, I felt there would be a kidney transplant. The course of events, throughout, seemed to be as natural as the change of seasons. Winter does bring snowstorms, but the snow always melts.
Frances McNulty, Batavia
The book having been written in journal format was an interesting and unusual technique. A reader’s attention span may be changing because of modern technology, with bulleted lists, short phrases and abbreviated text often employed. “The Call” having been presented as a journal seems in sync with these.
The word journal, derived from the French for day, is synonymous with daybook. The author, by having David share each day’s events, his work, family, thoughts, habits and idiosyncrasies, allows us an entrée into his private self. His quest for discovery of who was responsible to harm to his son is portrayed almost as an obsession. His search becomes a personal journey, which has obsolete meanings “a day’s work” and “a day’s travel,” and seems appropriate. His journal details that journey.
I enjoyed this book’s format, and found it quick and easy to read, all in keeping with those methods so prevalent today, but causing me to wonder – is this progress?
Catherine Roth, Batavia
It is my opinion that Yannick Murphy took a great risk in using a diary form of writing for the book “The Call.” It is a well known fact that reading the day by day account of anyone’s life can be a very dull experience. (Even my husband’s great-grandfather’s diary as he marched with Sherman from Atlanta to the sea is dull.) If it had not been the shooting accident in “The Call” and the search for the identity of the shooter, it would not have had my attention for long.
The other risk that Murphy took was that of a woman writing the book from a man’s point of view. The various types of patients that a veterinarian sees was of some interest, though I would have liked to have known what “Floating teeth” and other animal diseases were all about. When the husband was critical of what his wife was or was not cooking for supper to me it was almost a put down of women – tho’ written by a woman – of women having to cook supper night after night and being constantly criticized by the husband for what was offered. It was as tho’ she were criticizing herself.
The overall theme of the book seemed to be finding the man who had shot the son. In the end he apparently forgave the man. However, suppose the shooter had killed his son. The elderly man who killed my son twenty years ago by driving the wrong way on a four-lane highway was also killed. I have yet to forgive the doctor who allowed the patient to drive, or the children who allowed the father to drive, or the State of New York which does not test elderly drivers. Would the father/mother have been as forgiving if the hunter had killed their son? We will never know!
Jacquie Billings Barlow, Perry
The journal format allows the reader to be swept away in the rhythm and randomness of Dave’s thoughts. What seems to be a monotonous diary of boring country life quickly transforms into a riveting tale full of conspiracy theories, moral dilemmas, and spaceship sightings. The journal format painfully keeps time as the family deals with the tragedy of Sam’s hunting accident and reminds the reader that life does go on. Just when the two main questions of the story, “Have you seen the spaceship?” and “Do you know who shot my son?” get redundant, the story shifts to include the prospect of organ donation in order to save a stranger’s life. The family’s willingness to make sacrifices for the common good is exemplified by how they arrive at a peaceful forgiveness of the anonymous hunter who compromised their family security and instead empathize with the fallible nature of humanity.
Ann Burlingham, Perry
“It’s like I’m in this guy’s head, but the problem is I don’t always want to be there,” says the night nurse. Despite the author’s wry hint that we might agree, I found being in Dave’s head more like being a passenger on a long road trip. He sets the route, but my attention shifts around the edges, taking the same journey, seeing different scenery illuminated by the author. The ride can be as choppy as the ocean he used to surf, repeated actions – calls, thoughts, hospital visits, aircraft sightings – as familiar yet different every time as every wave. Like the ocean, every unique experience is a part of the same vast, interconnected whole, into which even catastrophic events meld into the routine. The end is not an ending but a stopping point. The road, the ocean, the seasons, and Dave’s life continue, always changing, but whole.
Lillian Powell, Perry
The spacecraft added quirk to a book that could have been very bleak without it. Next to countless calls for sick and dying animals, rushing your unconscious son t the ER, a long-lost son who is convinced the entire town knows who shot your other son but won’t tell you, and being faced with a difficult decision that could kill you or save a life, sighting a UFO is a pleasant phenomenon.
It also provided a distraction from mortality, for the characters and the reader. Even for only a few moments, the veterinarian could wonder what that light in the sky was instead of wondering if his son would ever wake up from his coma. Though it accompanied tragedy throughout the story, the spacecraft was less of a foreboding omen than it was a comfort – a literal shining light in the darkness.