First Four Measures by Nathaniel Bellows is a rather odd bit of story abut a fourteen year-old boy who tries hard to gain his piano teacher’s approval, and it seems, physical touch, though we aren’t quite sure if it actually is a sexual or intense creative overture by the instructor. His parents go off and leave the boy in the care of a housesitter who also has what appears an attraction to the boy, and there is a jealousy of sorts that is evident after she tells the boy’s parents about seeing the piano teacher’s moves. It is a true character revelation as even the boy himself obviously manipulates all the adults. Sensitively presented, and while I felt rather wanting more clear information, it may be the skill of the author to leave us as uncertain as the boy himself is in his desire as well as his suspicions.
Charles D’Ambrosio’s The Scheme of Things is based more on action to produce the conflict, while gradually revealing the main characters in their reactions. Kirsten and Lance are ex-cons, down on their luck, traveling the countryside in a beat-up car and trying to sucker folks into donating to a legitimate foundation for aid to drug-damaged newborns even as they decide to keep what little they manage to solicit for themselves. Kirsten is psychic, and acts as the front man, and at one point they stay a couple days with an older couple who readily share what little they have. When they leave, Kirsten is amused and a little upset to find that the jewelry Lance has stolen from their hosts is paste, and the corn he’s filled the back seat with is all cow corn. Interesting delving into the side of people who even in desperation may be affected by the plight of others, yet still take advantage of them.
I love Alice Munro’s work; it always is so simple and straightforward about a common situation, and yet it’s the underlying story that the reader slowly becomes aware of being the main focus. What’s happening is the impetus, the action; in this story, The Silence, a mother goes to pick up her daughter from a commune that she suspects is a cult, the daughter is gone, and the mother’s life changes and goes on in waiting for the girl who never does return but leads her own separate life. Munro has an excellent way of moving time both backward and forward from her immediate action starting point that provides insight into the characters even as it reveals their growth and changes.