“Final Exam: History of Art 321” by Elizabeth McBride was one of my favorites from The Whole Story. As a reader, the thing I like and remembered most about this short story was obviously its gimmicky Q&A layout, meant to replicate the look of a real art history exam. Well, I just happen to be an art history minor, so I can tell you once and for all that the final exams don’t really look like this–that is, in case you were under the impression that this short story was actually a real test. But maybe McBride really is just a slacker who was staring down a deadline, and at the last moment fortuitously opted to submit one of the old blue-books she found stuffed into her desk drawer for publication. (She does mention Marcel Duchamp a lot in here, so you never know.)
Beyond its catchy short-essay format–not to mention the names of all of those artists and philosophers she throws around in order to get a good grade–I personally liked how the content of her “final exam,” meant to be an Objective Assessment of her Understanding of Course Knowledge, gradually becomes more and more personal, with her test finally turning into a document of her post-traumatic psychological breakthrough. I think most people who have ever taken a timed final exam in a liberal arts class can relate to this experience to an extent, since in-class essays are all about jotting down everything you know as fast as you can, therefore always bordering dangerously on becoming an exercise in automatic writing–but only, I guess, if you have as much emotional baggage as this girl does. ANYWAY, after reflecting on this short story, I think that if I were to write “What Being a Publisher Means to Me” in 25 words, my stamp of approval might ultimately rest upon just two things, both for which this “Final Exam” gets an A+: (1) its style matches its content and (2) its content is relatable–at least to me.