Sunday, July 25, 2010

Short-a-Day: Ryan Mecklenburg's "Hopefulness"

Originally published in The Atlantic, Fiction 2010. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 40.

Ouch; I was digging Mecklenburg's anal-retentive narrative, about a man who fixates first on his family, then, when this pushes his wife away, on the regulations for his Neighborhood Watch committee. It gets better when we see him shirking on his duties when it comes to the foreclosed Martin house next door--especially as we learn that he goes so far as to help thieves roll up and steal the carpeting because his wife, Marlene, isn't on an extended vacation with the kids, but has actually shacked up with Mr. Bob Martin, and has sent him divorce papers from St. Louis. But then there's this line: "The comparison is obvious, but I make it anyway: my negligence, in both the crumbling of this house and the crumbling of the marriage. How I ignored the signs."

This sort of made me more aware of the sloppiness of the story, which is blatantly plotted and framed to the extent of being stifling. It also detracted from the ending, which uses the image of a soap-box race, to finally snap our narrator out of his stupor, potentially helping him to relax and move on with his life. But even here, Mecklenburg brings in his b-plot story, by having Mr. Hutton (who has been hoping, though he did not get along well with his rebellious and now incarcerated son, for the parole hearings to go well) make this observation: "It's too bad life can't be like that.... That we zoom as fast as we like into a soft pillow. That no matter how fast we sped, we were guided by a little strip of wood that kept us on track. But it's more a thing of no brakes, no steering, see where you stop, or what stops you." Not much left to the imagination, is there?

It's a competently written story, but with so many stories published each week, each month, it needs to be more than that, and because it's such a mundane setting, with such mundane characters, and mundane observations, I can't really rate it highly.

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