I know what you're thinking. . . Short Story Sunday. . . But this is Saturday! This is madness! I wish it were madness. Maybe I did finally crack. . . No, but in the effort of not using any more jarring breaks in my narrative and keeping this semi on-track for the three of you who will read it ; ) I'm on the road this week and am a minimalist when I pack. So, coming live from a hotel business "office" somewhere in Southern territory is Short Story Sunday III - Play the Monster Blind by Lynn Coady.
**Spoiler Warning - I drop a line regarding 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan that could be considered a spoiler? I don't know, but you've been warned**
This story breaks the mold from what I've been talking about so far this year (if two posts can be considered a mold) in the fact that we're breaking away from speculative fiction and cannonballing into a contemporary / literary style. But, seeing as the major point of this venture was to become more exposed to a variety of writing, publications, and authors, I think we're doing pretty well so far.
Play the Monster Blind follows Bethany as she accompanies her fiancé on a family getaway where she really becomes exposed to his siblings, his parents, and their wealth of problems. Awkward moments arise, as they tend to do around these sorts of family events - or any family event really - and we navigate these moments along with Bethany while she balances her desire to fit in with John's family and her own personal breaking point.
"John said that his father had never understood the purpose of beer. He didn't see the point of an alcoholic beverage with so little alcohol in it. [...] "He's an alcoholic," said Bethany, epiphanic. [...] "Oh Christ," John said, then, letting go of her hand. "You don't know much." It hurt her feelings but she didn't tell him.
I think the strong point of Coady's piece is her ability to capture the uncomfortable feelings we all experience when we are thrust into a new place and around new people. Emotions which are often amplified when it has to do with family or the family of someone we are with in a romantic capacity with.
But, even past the impactful emotions and realistic familial relationships, I think the most impressive thing about Play the Monster Blind is the ambiguous monster itself. When I first started reading the story I was convinced that the monster would be a direct point of contention that either grew between Bethany and a member of John's family or John and a member of his family. But as I kept reading I realized while I was correct, I was right in regards to only a layer of conflict.
Much like Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad where the Goon Squad is actually a representation of Time, the Monster in Play the Monster Blind can, depending upon your interpretation be so many different things. And then all of them at once. The way we try to fit in and conform ourselves to other families while maintaining our own individuality. Personal issues - drinking, gambling, eating disorders, that we (and Coady's characters) suffer with. The monster could just be family. Or life itself. And that's what a good writer does. Take something in a coherent story and make it so readers from diverse backgrounds and understandings can relate to it.
And with that, it's time to get back on the road. Next week's selection is Afternoon by the Pacific Ocean by Kristín Ómarsdóttir and it comes from Out of the Blue: New Short Fiction from Iceland. See you all next week!