What Fourth Wall?
The Greeks didn’t pay any attention to a division between actor and audience. When a playwright wanted to address the audience, they just had the chorus talk to the theater. It worked fine for quite a while.
Shakespeare’s characters didn’t hesitate to turn to the audience for a little chat. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck slyly addresses the theater:
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.” (V, i. 440-455)
Then it all came crashing down. The French Enlightenment philosopher and member of the Encyclopédistes, Denis Diderot, announced that such casual behavior violated the unspoken wall between art and viewer.
“When you write or act, think no more of the audience than if it had never existed. Imagine a huge wall across the front of the stage, separating you from the audience, and behave exactly as if the curtain had never risen.” 1758–Denis Diderot
Almost as soon as the Fourth Wall was invented, writers lined up to press against it. The Brontës often addressed their readers directly. “A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote…” (–Jane Eyre, Chapter XI)
The theater, of course, produced [Sorry, pun. Couldn’t help myself…] the trope-defining “Clap if you believe in fairies.” And clap we did.
Hollywood gave the wall a good roughing up.
And TV? Well, it never met a Fourth Wall it didn’t think would make a better window or door.
Not to mention the ultimate wall-buster and answer to its own question for the past fifty years. “Dr. Who?”
As a writer, I can see the temptation is to not to just break the fourth wall, but to take out a banner ad, tweet, and maybe make a page on pinterest announcing just what you’ve done. The potential for parody alone is almost irresistible.Or maybe:
Breaking the fourth wall is a terrific trope, but has to be carefully used if a writer wants to avoid having the audience take the entire work as a joke. It’s especially difficult to pull off if the work is humor. The book I’m reviewing today, Crossing Bedlam by Charles Yallowitz, is a darkly humorous fantasy with a fourth wall-banger who mentions often that he is a character in a story.
Crossing Bedlam by Charles YallowitzThe United States of America has been crippled. Violently contained by a global military force and left without its leaders, the country has become shattered and chaotic. A decade has passed since the first strike and a new landscape has emerged where survival is more important than anything else. Who will uncover the truth behind the attack and revive this once great nation?It certainly won’t be Cassidy and Lloyd since they couldn’t care less about that stuff. She is a young woman on a mission to honor her mother’s dying wish, which is to toss her ashes off the Golden Gate Bridge. He is an infamous serial killer she broke out of Rikers Island since hiring a bodyguard wasn’t working out. Not the perfect plan, but having an insane, oddly charming murder-junkie on your side is a plus in the Shattered States. Bullets and swear words are going to fly as Cassidy and Lloyd travel coast to coast, facing one challenge after another . . . including Nebraska.
- Title: Crossing Bedlam
- Author: Charles E. Yallowitz
- Genre: Humorous post-apocalyptic fantasy
- Publisher: Amazon
- Date of Publication: February 13, 2016
- Number of pages: 352
REVIEW: 3.5 out of 5 stars for Crossing Bedlam by Charles Yallowitz
Can I just start out by paying homage to Charles Yallowitz for his prescience in setting his dystopian fantasy in a post-apocalyptic America—now known as the Shattered States—where the country has giant walls across their borders, allows no immigration, and has been cut off from the rest of the world? “These people believe that this is how the Shattered States should be,” Cassidy explains when she gets back inside […] “Though I’m guessing these people always wanted to be extremely violent and found this to be a great excuse.” (And to think— he wrote it before The Donald even won his first primary!)
The story involves a cross-country road trip through a post-apocalyptic America full of homicidal maniacs, religious fanatics, and the occasional killer rhino. Cassidy is trying to make it to San Francisco because her mother’s dying wish was to have her ashes scattered from the Golden Gate Bridge. She raids a maximum security prison to obtain properly murderous bodyguards. Unfortunately one of them, a serial killer named Lloyd, murders the rest of her recruits before she can explain the plan. The two then head across the country, where they face new danger at every turn. Along the way, their dependency on each other shifts to a wary friendship (if you have the kind of friends who might kill you at any moment…).
There was so much to like in this book. The structure—a road trip moving from state to state—lent itself to organization and steady pacing. I enjoyed the way that Lloyd believed he was living a story that pierced the fourth wall (between the book and the audience). It was a terrific device, because it allowed Cassidy to preserve the narrative flow (by assuming that it was just an example of Lloyd being nuts), while the author is able to present some information about the characters and their respective roles. “That just screams main characters in a story to me. I mean, most people exist without an adventure. They’re born, grow up, work, have sex, have kids, and die with nothing more than photo albums left behind. The two of us are doing something amazing. All of the stories I read in jail had people doing stuff like this, so it makes sense that we’re characters.”
Cassidy points out that if they are characters, then they are not in charge of their own destiny, not to mention the fact that their creator has put them into a nasty situation. “That’s too depressing to think about considering this creator would also be the one who destroyed our world. A real bastard if you ask me.”
The dialog was full of snarky one-liners and quips. And I couldn’t help liking Lloyd, who I pictured as a combination of Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Hannibal Lecter. I found Cassidy (who was simply referred to with annoying frequency as “the blonde”), to be somewhat less three-dimensional or likeable.
On the other hand, there were things that drove me nuts, from the editorial fails to the cover that looks like something drawn by a ten year old in a bad mood because his teacher didn’t let him draw a jet and Spiderman in too (a surprise because the author’s covers are usually drop-dead gorgeous). But my biggest problem is the two main characters. They seem to evolve over the course of their odyssey, but I don’t really see it happening. Instead, we’re simply informed that now they are friends. I would have liked to know more about what they are thinking and feeling.
I already know from his other work that Charles Yallowitz has a flair for action and adventure. I know from Crossing Bedlam that he can be darn funny. Apparently, he can also write four letter words with the best of them. I’d like to see another (edited!) adult-targeted book that gets inside the characters’ heads and shows us what they are thinking instead of just what they are cursing.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
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And did I mention my favorite genre to poke holes in that fourth wall?
Of course, it’s those snark-talking Marvel heroes. Check out the very last line of this trailer for a message aimed straight at the audience.