After Dinner Conversations is “a website of short stories designed to encourage ethical and moral conversations with friends, family, and social groups.” When I read that the featured stories aimed to “create an accessible example of an abstract ethical or philosophical idea,” I was immediately reminded of the novel Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.
Except that After Dinner Conversations (ADC) succeeds much better.
Sophie’s World is an enjoyable and challenging tale that explores the nature of reality. In the story, the protagonist must master philosophical concepts to regain control of her life, which has been taken over and altered by a philosopher.
What I like about ADC is that the philosophy is more deeply embedded in the story. While Sophie’s World throws huge chunks of philosophical exposition at the reader, the stories in ADC craft philosophical problems into plot points.
In Tyler W. Kurt’s “The Shadow of the Thing,” for example, Dakota, the POV character, visits her friends Maeve and Jason, who’ve asked her to join them for the evening. Maeve intends to take a drug that allows one to see the “true world” that’s “layered on top of the world that you see around you.” Later, while waiting for the drug to kick in, Dakota and Maeve sit back and watch the shadows on the wall.
The allusion to Plato’s Cave signals the story’s theme of looking – and seeing – beyond appearances. I thought it amusing that the author foreshadowed (!) the theme at the beginning of the story, when we learn that Maeve and Jason, both unconventional personalities, live in an ordinary tract home in the suburbs. Not exactly the place one would expect to find a wingsuit-diving programmer or a travel blogger who’s visited over 70 countries.
ADC says its goal is to feature stories that spark discussion, and this story clearly succeeds. Jason has already had his eyes opened by the mysterious drug. But the experience seems to have permanently depressed him. Does seeing underlying reality sap one’s enthusiasm? Are our illusions our surest comfort in a bleak world? If so, why would Maeve (and perhaps Dakota) want to follow his example?
And that’s just off the top of my head. Many more fascinating issues lurk beneath the surface here.
I’ll close with a little speculation about the characters’ names. Maeve is an alternate spelling of Queen Medb of Irish mythology, whose name means “she who intoxicates.” In Greek mythology, Jason was married to the sorceress Medea, who ultimately destroy each other. Does this suggest how the Maeve and Jason in “The Shadow of the Thing” end up?
As I said, the possibilities for generating discussion abound.