Looking for stories where characters talk about hardship
April 7, 2021 9:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for third-person POV stories where a character is telling another character about a difficult experience they've had in the past.

To be more specific, I'm trying to find examples of conversations that are confessional in nature -- for example, where one character is telling another about a difficult experience or hardship they had undergone years ago. It could either be something that the character did to someone else, like bullying a classmate as a child, or, conversely, something that someone else did to the character, like a teacher deliberately humiliating them in front of a class.

I'm specifically not looking for first-person accounts, where the narrator is recounting an event to the reader. I'm looking for third-person accounts where one character is talking to another. One of the few examples I can come up with is a pretty gross and misogynist story by Harlan Ellison called "All the Birds Come Home to Roost," where one character is telling another about his horrible marriage, which ended really badly. There's also one other one from Stephen King's "Carrie," where one character is telling another about a time he kicked a kid when they were in grade school.

This is a pretty narrow category, I guess, but I'm hoping the hive mind can help me find a few examples. I'm specifically looking for novels and short stories rather than movies or TV, but if there are examples from movies or TV, those could help too. I'm not squeamish about subject matter, so any type of story is fine.
posted by holborne to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mystery novels tend to be stuffed with these. Rex Stout's The League of Frightened Men comes to mind, but just the genre conventions often require confessions of past difficult experiences. The Sherlock Holmes stories are full of them.
posted by praemunire at 9:38 PM on April 7

I only know TV and movies, so I'll be the one to recommend Your Friends and Neighbors without any spoilers.
posted by rhizome at 10:02 PM on April 7

One of my favorite examples of this kind of confession is in Joyce's story from Dubliners, "The Dead." Although the confessing character is not really to blame for the death of her young love years before, she feels responsible for it and hasn't gotten over it. She relays the story to her husband all in 3rd person dialogue. "I think he died for me."

If you can use a dramatic script (also a movie though I think it's shortened in the film version), what comes to mind for me is Streetcar Named Desire, when Blanche Dubois tells Mitch the story of driving her young husband to suicide.
posted by nantucket at 10:38 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]

Having just seen a production, "The Night of the Iguana" springs to mind. (I'm not sure I'd recommend it, but it meets the requirements.)
posted by eotvos at 12:21 AM on April 8

There's a scene in Kingsley Amis' "the Anti-Death League" where this happens -- a character tells another character about abuse she's suffered in the past -- the "confessing" character arranges it deliberately, rather than just answering questions. It's a powerful scene of her taking agency over the communication in her new relationship.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:26 AM on April 8

Miranda Popkey's Topics of Conversation might suit.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:02 AM on April 8

The Four Yorkshiremen is a kind of cautionary tale about how far such confessions can go.
posted by SPrintF at 8:20 AM on April 8

"The Girl on the Plane" by Mary Gaitskill is a story where this happens. A man and a woman in conversation on a plane. He recalls taking part in a gang rape when he was in college.
posted by swheatie at 8:37 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]

In Jenny Erpenbeck's Go, Went, Gone, a retired professor is interviewing a number of asylum seekers in Germany and they relate different hardships to him.
posted by RGD at 12:51 PM on April 8

Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love": a couple relates to another couple the abusive relationship one of them had been in.
posted by bendybendy at 1:13 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]

The Infinite Jest is basically made of what you're looking for. There's a lot of AA meetings, interpersonal family confessions, talk radio call-in shows etc. You'll like it.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:44 PM on April 8

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is just full of these; there are multiple instances where a secondary character relates their troubles at length to a main character. I remember a traveling peddler talking about how he left an aristocratic family and all his money, and a main character's father tells her a lengthy story about how he courted her mother. It's a recurring theme in the novel, I think it's fair to say.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:33 PM on April 10

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