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Jason Van Horn's picture

Schrodinger's Son

By Jason Van Horn in Arrest Us

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Quantum mechanics is not an easy scientific field to grasp, nor the events that push a family to their limits, forcing them to make the ultimate life or death decision. 


Cmangano's picture
Cmangano from Maine June 17, 2014 - 10:36am

Hi Jason,

You have a solid control of language and some great imagery here. This is a cool, bizarro idea but I'm not sure where it fits in with the crime world. My one big gripe is that I find the resolve hard to believe. Steven comes up with the idea to apply Shrodinger's theory to his son as if it were a logical and valid solution to the problem. I don't think any father would actually handle it that way. It seems like the thought process of a man who has lost his mind. If  that was your intention it would help to delve a little bit deeper, letting us know that he's lost it.

  Katherine, who seems to fill the position of loving-but-nagging wife would certainly never agree, so easily to not even check to see if the boy was okay, (after all, they're assuming that he's been in there the entire time when he may have had several different hiding spots in those three hours). Even if both parents were convinced that the boy was dead, I think they would still want to know, for their own peace of mind that there was nothing else they could have done. That he was in fact dead. The comfort of Jordan living a full life in another universe doesn't seem realistic. He is dead in this universe and that's the only one in which these characters have any context, so he's dead to them no matter what. The parents seem to take solace in this loophole; perhaps he's not dead if we don't look. It feels like a convenient way for them to ditch their problem and they don't seem to react appropriately to the horrific event.

I hope that i haven't been too discouraging. I think that this is well written, but I was distracted by some of the holes. I hope that some of what I say was helpful, otherwise take it as a grain of salt.

Krista W. Rooks's picture
Krista W. Rooks June 17, 2014 - 12:08pm

I followed your story and understand that the idea is of course from Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment. The use of words and imagery is excellent and helps you picture the story as if you were a part of it. Steven teaches quantum mechanics, reads Molly's paper and then this tragedy occurs and the idea of Schrodinger's cat gives him something to hold on to. Has he lost his mind...perhaps. The thought of my child having died in the trunk as a fault of mine would indeed send me over the edge. I can also relate to Katherine's character. The idea of him staying alive at least in some other world as long as the trunk stays closed gives her hope as well. Realistic? Maybe not, but it doesn't have to be and honestly strager things and thoughts have happened in real life. I enjoyed reading your story. Excellent work!

Damon Lytton's picture
Damon Lytton from Augusta, Kansas is reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow June 17, 2014 - 5:12pm

Is the story realistic, or no?  I honestly couldn't care less.  Your story had me from the first - I'm not sure I can give a better compliment than that.  Beautful imagery and a concise trajectory without feeling constructed.  I love your Chekhov's Gun with the color of rainbows; everything about it feels natural.

Matt A.'s picture
Matt A. June 18, 2014 - 7:21am

I have to agree with the first reviewer as to the genre--not really crime fiction. But I'll set that aside and try for feedback regardless of genre:

You spent a lot of time describing the oppressive heat, but I'm not sure it had a bearing on the theme or plot, unless I missed something. If you did intend on a connection, consider some rewording. If not, you could delete and save yourself a lot of space.

A lot of space was also used describing his ogling of Molly. I also didn't see relevance here. He could have been just as scatterbrained thinking about the papers he was grading as he was thinking about some hot college girl in his class.

I started to lose interest around the description of what the boy was wearing. It was pretty long and generally a laundry list-type of description for characters can take away from the narrative. The above review mentioned that the rainbows were a Chekhov's Gun, but that didn't work too much for me. A Checkhov's Gun is usually a plot-resolving device, where here it was just a matter of the dad seeing his shoe string sticking out from the hood. In other words, we would have believed the dad's recognition of his shoestring without needing a whole paragraph on what his son was wearing.

The mom's reaction is very unbelievable as letting the dad take the car without checking on her son. Her character is practicaly a throw-away one--the story may be more believable with no mom (single father) and then he's not trying to convince the mother as to the thought control experiment.

In regards to the though control portion, I didn't quite get the original description (using dice to determine choice) compared the his decision to leave his son in the trunk.

Your writing in this was pretty tight, just the above suggestions as to bigger picture issues.

Good luck.

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 21, 2014 - 6:06am

I have to agree with previous reviewers here. The setup was obvious from the title, I was expecting him to not only have a son, but to leave him locked somewhere at the end of the story. I think it is a crime story, as covering up a death is a crime, it's just a little less conventional. As other have said, the descriptions go on a bit, and the reference to Molly and her paper just reinforce the setup. I was hoping the story would end with them opening the trunk, with the result of the experiment ambiguous, but I see why you went in the direction you did. My main issue is the sudden need to keep the boot closed, and the wife's almost immediate agreement. Some work needed, but a good idea and strong potential.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 2, 2014 - 1:39am

I don’t think anything I say on this one will add much to what has already been said, but I’m going to give it a whirl anyway.

You have a great consistent voice here, and a nice flowing, easy read. I particularly like the way you nail the little details. A lot of them don’t add to the story, but what they do add is colour that brings these characters to life. I can see Jordan clearly in my mind, running around in his black shoes with mismatching rainbow laces. That little detail gives him more life to me. Knowing he is wearing a Thomas The Tank Engine t-shirt gives me an approximate age too, as does the fact that he’s just learning to tie his shoelaces. As a father myself, these little details make me feel closer to that family.

The reaction to being disturbed while marking papers is perfect. Its perfect road to hell stuff, but also very realistic. I’ve been in similar situations; trying to keep my cool but really needing to get on with my work. Using hide and seek as a ploy is bordering on cliché, but you do a good job of making the situation realistic, so it doesn’t feel like just a plot point.

Unfortunately as soon as he comes out of the basement, the reality you have carefully built up is not maintained. If the kid is as young as he seems to be (four/five at most), the idea of parents losing track of him for three hours is very unrealistic. “I heard him go outside. I can't remember if I heard him come back in” – this is a mother who won’t listen to criticism about her son. There is no way she would let him play for three hours outside without checking up on him, certainly not these days when we are so conscious of the dangers.

I understand the ending completely. You’ve built it up quite nicely, you don’t have that many words remaining, and you need dad to drive the car away to maintain the Schrodinger theme. Out of convenience you have the mum coming around easy, and agreeing to this crazy ass plan of his. He’s clearly dead, so let’s lie for the rest of our lives, because her family are never to ask after him, and won’t think it weird that they haven’t seen him in years. Grief leads to people making silly decisions, but this feels like a stretch that is at odds with the layers of reality you’ve laced this story with. I’d be inclined to agree with Doug, making him a single father who subsequently will disappear as well.

This is a definite thumbs up from me though. Best of luck with it.

kevymetal's picture
kevymetal from Halifax, NS July 19, 2014 - 8:27am

I'm a bit torn on this one. On the one hand, I really like your style. Your writing flows really well, your descriptions were great, and the narrative moves really smoothly...

...until the father realizes his son is gone, at which point it goes way, way too quickly and there's a pretty gigantic leap in logic that's difficult to accept. The mother agreeing with the husband seems too far-fetched, not only because a mother would want to know for sure (they might have enough time to rush the boy to the hospital, after all) but you can't have a kid one day and not the next without people noticing or the police getting involved.

This could be fixed in a number of ways if you choose to expand this story: mom and dad's negligence/self-involvement could be explored a little more in-depth (perhaps they could both be equally complicit in/responsible for the kid's death), and there could be way more stuff about Shrodinger's cat and quantum physics to set readers up for the ending. Maybe the wife is a scientist as well, specializing in quantum physics, so her willingness to go along with the husband is more justified. And there would have to be a way to extend the search for the kid, so that the reader feels like it's taken hours rather than a few minutes. 

Because, and here's the thing, the ending is pretty genius, and really beautiful. Their son is goners, but they're giving him a chance to live in myriad alternate universes. Very, very lovely idea, and one that is worth exploring.