All set to complain again; after three good stories, I thought I’d found a stinker. And, to find out that To A Stranger by Daniel Villasenor was the top prizewinner of their Fiction Open made me doubly frustrated (as a writer–although reader too, I suppose).
But then, a few pages into it (stalling and putting it down several times, as it went on and on about good God of all things—thoughts and feelings!) some action took hold of the story, very subtle, just another few pages of interaction between two men in a locker room, but the story arose.
Written in third person pov–which by the way was an excellent choice because I would have dumped this story as rambling thoughts of ego if in first person–the story unfolds as a man is on his way downtown, thinking of his relationship with his wife, bemoaning the loss of closeness and wondering how and why. In this depressed state, he sees the people around him in a very condescending and sardonic way:
That morning, looking at all the faces in the subway, he could see that there was not a spark of originality or intelligence on any face, that not a one had what could be called an internal life; a respectful conversation with oneself; that they stared blankly in stupefied un-wonder at their feet or each other or their own alienated jostling images in the darkly teeming glass; (etc.) (Glimmertrain #50, p. 66)
At this point, I didn’t like the character (Peter) as much as I wouldn’t like him in real life. But then, after a swim at a gym and sitting naked in the locker room, another man walks in, also naked (nah, this didn’t make me like the story yet, but I was getting more interested) asks Peter to help him clasp a braclet on his wrist.
The action here is slow motion, as Peter tries while he’s still thinking his own thoughts as well as dissecting his reaction to this soft-spoken man. He feels a connection of sorts, an attraction that is clearly sexual as well as a silent communication between two people. The man thanks him, dresses and just as Peter leaves, the man hands him a poem that clearly shows the connection between strangers that almost always remains unspoken.
On the ride home, his view of those around him:
And he thought that behind each window someone must be mulling over sentences, words in the mind that he or she was trying to shave closer and closer to the truth, so that they might thereby untrouble themselves; that people everywhere, this very minute, were answering the terrible summons of their souls, together or privately, performing small acts of bravery which would release them from the prison of their fears. (p. 74)
So Peter is facing himself through the honesty of the man he has met. He goes home to further attempt to be honest with his wife and with himself.
So I ended up liking this story, although it did get tedious in the beginning, and I had to keep my "you think you got problems, you pompous ass" attitude in check.
As is my habit, I then go to check out the photo and short bio or thoughts of the author as Glimmertrain so neatly supplies. Mr. Villasensor looks like a raven-haired Fabio. Then I liked the story even more.
Check out Bud Parr’s post on New Companions to Literature which does address the question of historical background of both author and era of a story.