I’m reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. I’ve just read a scene where the car breaks down, but with grit and good fortune the protagonists are able to repair it within a few hours. Steinbeck botches the scene: he has his character driving all day in the desert, and then immediately opening the engine and spilling oil all over himself. In real life the engine would be… rather warm. So, mud in Steinbeck’s eye. But this prompted an idea for a short story that I’m unlikely to follow up on: there’s some analogous fictive situation, but the characters within the narrative recognize the hole in the plot, and begin to reflect on its significance. What has happened? What does it mean that reality has suddenly changed? Given the characters in the novel, I imagine the conversation petering out as they simply lack words and concepts to ask the question: are we merely characters in a story?