The Knowers is a short story by Helen Phillips that was first published in Recommended Reading in 2013. This story takes place in the future, where for a small fee one can find out the exact date of your death. A married couple makes opposite decisions; the wife chooses to find out her death date and her husband chooses not know. Because of this decision and the wife knowing the exact date of her death, the couple completely alters the way they think and live their lives.
In her first sentence, Phillips introduces us immediately to the issue in her exposition, “There are those who wish to know, and there are those who don’t wish to know, (Philips, 1) The conflict occurss when the husband finds out that his wife does know her date of death. “You do know!” he raged, seizing upon the word…. When he finally quieted, he was different. Maybe different than he’d ever been.” (Phillips, 2) This information will now change how they live their lives and define their existence.
Phillips skillfully uses gradual falling action for the celebration of April 17th, the narrator’s death day, as opposed to her birthday date, to celebrate another year of being alive, knowing that on one particular April 17th, the wife is doomed to die. Each year of this couple’s relationship, having children; jobs; having new grandchild, is documented with an impending sense of doom.
At the conclusion, Philips carefully leaves the resolution open and readers are proposedly left hanging, with the last sentence, “There are still six minutes remaining.” (Phillips, 9) We know that she will die in the next four minutes, but since the husband never found out his death date, will he die too? Or did the machine make a mistake?
The approach that Philips immediately captures the readers’ attention in the first sentence is something I would like to attempt in my own short story writing.
Phillips, Helen. The Knowers, Recommended Reading, 2013