LITERATURE: Glimmer Train #55 – Two Good’uns

Both of these struck me not only for their story, but for noticeable fine technique.  Which, yeah, you’re not supposed to notice but as a writer–and I’m sure Francine Prose would agree–you do indeed notice and if you can, admire.

First up, Daniel Wallace’s The Last Time I Saw Him.  First person narrator, a son reminiscing about his father. 

Every now and then, between scenarios that move around in time and space (I’d have to go back and check if there is a backward or forward theme) there is a paragraph that begins with the title theme:

The last time I saw him he was in town for something, a business thing, and he had a little time before a meeting and said maybe we could meet in the hotel bar, have a drink, talk. (p. 89)

This reminds me a lot of a story I read back in a Contemporary Fiction class; I’m bringing this information with me:  The father has been derelict in his relationship with his son, and there is this trying too hard that accompanies his realization.  There’s still, however, the lack of knowing what to do beyond duty.

The last time I saw him was on a Christmas afternoon.  My mother and I had opened our presents that morning, and cleaned up, and then she’d gone over to her boyfriend’s house. p. 92)

So our suspicions were correct.  The narrator is the product of a broken home.  The scenes also end with this enigmatic idea:

(…) and I went to sleep, and he left on his trip, and after that I never saw him again in my entire life.  (p. 96)

Beautifully done.  We’re getting the backstory served up as courses in a fine meal.  And the obvious yet mysterious:  Last time I saw him?  Is it merely the thought that was his at the time, or something more…something like seeing his father in different ways each time, so that truly, it was the last.  Excellent technique, excellent writing.

The next is a short story by Angela Pneuman called The Bell Ringer.  Third person omniscient, getting into the heads of two sisters and the husband of one of them.  One of the sisters is mentally disturbed, and here we see great insight into a jumbled mind trying to hold on to normalcy.  Her sister’s problems are seen through art classes she is taking, and the sister’s husband is having some minor crisises of his own.  All well presented in the interaction of the characters. Classic showing.

There was only one part that I would almost consider a missed opportunity to shine.  In the beginning, the mentally disturbed sister goes to stay with her married sister who has a six-year old daughter.  The daughter sleeps with her aunt, and notices:

Aunt Esther sleeps wearing a yellow smiley-face T-shirt and black bikini panties.  One morning Amy wakes before Aunt Esther and counts eleven purple and red lines the length of her little finger, one laid above the next like a train track climbing the white skin up out of the black panties.  (p. 165)

Well placed exposition; we know up to this point that Aunt Esther (who is 24) had been living down in Florida with a couple men.  We can only suspect what went on, as Amy sees the scars on her aunt’s back.  Unfortunately, Pneuman brings it up again too soon; without answering the question, she has everyone else in the house wondering about it along with us.  I felt it was too prominently referred to in the story and that wasn’t necessary; believe me, I hadn’t forgotten about it.  But the story is a good one, well defined characters and realistic imagery.  Nicely done. 

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