“Second Lives” by Daniel Alarcón is a good story to investigate point of view and perspective. Why do we write from one character’s point of view and not another character’s? How is a story shaped by the viewpoint? In “Second Lives” the story is told by a boy named Nelson, whose brother has escaped the third-world and is living in the United States. Most of the story focuses on Nelson’s brother, Francisco, so why is this from Nelson’s perspective?
If the story were told from Francisco’s point of view, it’d be a different story, because this one, Nelson’s story, is wrapped up in the absence of his brother. Nelson is full of resentment as he watches Francisco squander his chances in America. It also sets up the contrast between the two brothers, and how the family as a whole has suffered. Thinking about it then, the story is not so much about Francisco, but everything that Nelson has missed out on.
If we ask whether or not the story is successful from Nelson’s point of view, my answer is no. While there is interest and drama in the emotions of Nelson, he doesn’t go anywhere with them. The final scene shifts to a point in time where Nelson is older and summarizing the years. He’s bitter. He’s sad. He’s been dominated by this absence, and nothing much has happened. At one point he says, “waiting for something to happen, reading obsessively about a place I would never see for myself, in a language I would never actually need.” Perhaps, some readers will identify with Nelson, or perhaps like Nelson, the story leaves me let down. We expect a worthy ending. What happens when that is denied us?
Check out this article from Mother Jones that relates Alarcón’s story to http://motherjones.com/media/2010/08/love-time-terror-babies.