Tag: family

Weike Wang, “The Trip” (2019)

(University of Pennsylvania)

One of those new stories enamored of the brusque, staccato style of clipped, declaratory sentences intended to project something less fluid, less linear, like the broken narrative of our sometimes less storied lives, in this case that of a young couple, a Chinese-born American who is nevertheless slurred as an ABC–American Born Chinese–by her relatives in China, and her husband, a man befuddled as much by his nagging mother as he is by his wife, who seems to unmoor herself from him and the United States little by little, as the couple travels through China on a tourism-and-family expedition with a few harrowing undertones. This opening sentence was intended to a) be anything but staccato and b) to approximate the length of the Great Wall,w here the story inevitably wanders at one brief point. The story does wander between its dualist strains: the women in this man’s life are not making it easy for him, and the image of that toilet lid lifting every time he walks by is positively frightening. The story is clearly autobiographical: Weike Wang was born in China, raised there for five years, then moved around (Australia, Canada, the United States, says Wikipedia). She was 11 when she landed in the United States. Her writing so far is the product of an MFA. There is a reference to reading a lot of Cheever in “The Trip.” In the end, the wife ends up staying in China and asking her husband to leave without her, to understand, to give her time. It’s something she must do. After all, she put up with her husband’s deplorably, unkowingly or maybe ignorantly bigoted attitudes toward her. There was this: “Later, his wife said that the entire meal was surreal. She found his mother interesting. Someone like her actually exists, she said, almost excited. And these places exist, and your stepdad watches ESPN, and they don’t want passports, they’ve never been on a plane, all those pickup trucks, amazing!” An echo of Obama’s guns and religion-clinging remark during his first campaign.

The New Yorker, November 11, 2019

Welty, “Why I Live at the P.O.” (1941)

Gold Hill Post Office, in the Virginia City Historic District, Nevada. (Brent Cooper)

Gold Hill Post Office, in the Virginia City Historic District, Nevada. (Brent Cooper) From the page: “Gold Hill is a community in Storey County, Nevada, located just south and downhill of Virginia City. Incorporated December 17, 1862, in order to prevent its annexation by its larger neighbor, the town at one point was home to at least 8,000 residents. Prosperity was sustained for a period of 20 years between 1868 and 1888 by mining the Comstock Lode, a major deposit of silver ore. Mines such as the Yellow Jacket, Crown Point, and Belcher brought in over $10 million each in dividends. The Gold Hill post office remained in operation until 1943. Today Gold Hill exists as a shell of its former self; its population in 2005 was 191. It is part of the Reno–Sparks Metropolitan Statistical Area. Historical remnants of the town can still be seen, including the Gold Hill Hotel, promoted as Nevada’s oldest hotel, in existence since some time prior to 1862; the former Bank of California building; the train depot; and remains of several of the mines.”

In the style of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” and “Good Country People,” but with humor coating Sister’s every act and utterance like a shield. She cannot bear to say anything with a straight face. Humor is her defense and her blinders. It’s July 4. The fireworks are Sister’s family: Pappa-Daddy, his name as comical as his claim that he’s not cut his beard since he was 15 and reacts with a Hasidim’s angry panic when Stella-Rondo, Sister’s sister, falsely (purposefully) claims Sister wants to cut off the beard. Stella-Rondo has just been dumped by Mr. Whitaker, Sister’s ex-flame, stolen by Stella-Rondo, who has a two-year-old child by him, Shirley-T (named after Shirley Temple). Stella-Rondo absolutely refuses to acknowledge it’s her biological child. It’s adopted, in her invention. Uncle Rondo is the drug addict, the shock survivor (or PTSD as we’d have it these days), the veteran of World War I who ingests a bottle of a prescription narcotic every July 4 so he can knock himself out, and who wears a kimono, suggesting different treads in his sexuality. Fat Mama favors Stella-Rondo and slaps Sister around. And Sister: well, she seems to be the only employed one of the bunch, at the minuscule post office in China Grove, Mississippi, a job secured by her grandfather, and a refuge. She decides, as the story devolves into an endless series of alienating offenses, real or perceived, to pack up mounds of belongings, hers or not–if she’s paid a cent for anything, she claims it–and move to the post office, using a “Nigger girl” to haul the stuff–a sharp, brutal reference to a girl Sister has no regard for: “Took her none trips in her express wagon.” Even when she thanks her grandfather for the job, she wounds: “I says, “Oh, Papa-Daddy,” I says, “I didn’t say any such of a thing, I never dreamed it was a bird’s nest, I have always been grateful though this is the next to smallest P.O. in the state of Mississippi, and I do not enjoy being referred to as a hussy by my own grandfather.” So she’s no innocent. The story is written in dialect and takes a lot in style and perhaps aim from Twain. “One can find numerous topics for scholarly reflection in “Why I Live at the P.O.”—and in any other Welty story, for that matter,” Danny Heitman writes in a piece for Humanities, “—but my professor’s advice is a nice reminder that beyond the moral and aesthetic instruction contained within Welty’s fiction, she was, in essence, a great giver of pleasure.”

Atlantic Monthly, April 1941, A Curtain of Green (1941)

Pritchett, “The White Rabbit” (1930)

Fatal Attraction, Pritchett style.

Fatal Attraction, Pritchett style.

Mr. and Mrs Gough hire a nanny, Miss Spencer. Mr. Gough likes her. Mrs. Gough does not. It’s a tense household. “Only at night, when the household was horizontal and unconscious, did the skirmishing cease.” And: “The bang” was the most joyous sound in the house. It was the noise of father slamming the door as he left. There was no peace in the morning until it had sounded.” Spencer is caught between the two. On child, Geoffrey, calls the house cat “Spencer.” The other child threatens to tell. Then Spencer sees the cat poised to attack the children’s white rabbit, which had gotten away from his cage. The rabbit and the cat are proxies of the war in the house. Pritchett explains, once he gets past a clumsy simile: “A feint, thought Miss Spencer. Then her heart fluttered in wild, unreasonable panic like a pigeon startled out of the top of a tree. Was the cat going to kill the rabbit? Ought she to open the window and hiss the cat away? Whose side was she on? Mrs. Gough’s and the rabbit’s; or Mr. Gough’s and the cat’s? That is what it means, her heart said. She was startled by her avid desire to see what happened and she did nothing. I must be impartial: life must print itself …” The cat kills the rabbit. “Mummy! Mummy! Spencer’s killed the rabbit. Spencer’s killed the rabbit,” he yelled.