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Chemistry by Ron Rash

The story started off fairly normally at first before the religion came out at you. I didn’t understand the sudden turn towards religion and thought that it was a tidbit of information before we broke into the heart of the story. Then the story kept going and I realized that the religion was more than a plot device towards the story. It gave something for each character to latch on to. Something concrete that the mother and father had two differing opinions on and neither one of them wanted to give up what they believed in.

What I am still not sure of is how that effects Joel, the main character. The story is all about his relationship to his father and what he observes his father doing. Joel is such a silent character that I’m not sure how to relate to him. He doesn’t really say what he thinks about his father and is more intrigued with what his father is doing than what is actually happening to his father. In a way, Joel is like the audience and is in for the ride but doesn’t have a lot of say in the matters at hand anyway. It is more like Joel has accepted that he can’t figure out what his father was thinking and accepts that nobody but that person can know what is inside their own heart.

Lincolnites

What struck me about this story was how unperturbed Lily remains through everything that happens. At the beginning, she is knitting, thinking about her family, the plowing, and how she’ll go hide the horse and chickens soon as if all those things are perfectly normal. We already know that the story is set during the Civil War, but this is our first hint of how much wartime has become a part of Lily’s life. We see that clearly when she kills Vaughn. The story maintains the same pace as Lily stabs him through the belly and reminds herself to try and pin him to the floor even though this is the climax of the action. A nineteen-year-old pregnant girl kills a man with a knitting needle and doesn’t bat an eye. Afterwards, she goes about her evening chores almost as if nothing happened – she even goes back to calling Vaughn “the Confederate”. Then, at the end, Lily rereads the newspaper article. Up to this point, Lily has seemed uninterested and almost dull, but now she is full of hope. Soon she’ll be able to tell everyone that her son’s name is Abraham and tomorrow she’ll be able to plant her crops.

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Stevie and Mama

The story “Stevie and Mama” surprised me in a lot of ways.  I found that I had to read it twice, because by the beginning I had almost forgotten when Roxy had come from.  Lee Smith is able to weave present and a huge chunk of past all together and make sense of all of it.  By withholding who Alice is, only in the last final pages are we able to really understand what is going on.  We don’t understand how Willie can seem so loving but have an affair.  With the death oft he child, and the change in Roxy, we understand how he was reaching out while his wife was so distant.

Roxy’s feelings towards Mary Etta were interesting to me.  On one hand, she feels sorry for her and says things along the lines of  “she’s only a maid”, and sides with her when she gets married (although her condescending attitude could shift to pride for her when she views Mary Etta in a happier light because she is severing contact with Willie), and on the other side she calls Mary Etta a slut.  She’s angry at her because Willie was with her, so she is condescending and mean towards her, but at the same time portrays her as a victim because it fits with her being angry at Willie.  This is all very interesting considering she was an adulterer in order to be with Willie in the first place.

Having Lilah get married throws an interesting twist into Roxy’s emotional roller coaster as well.  She’s already upset and thinking about marriage, and now her surrogate daughter is getting hitched which has her not only thinking about her marriages, but her daughter, and the fact that it will never really be her daughter getting married, because Alice is dead.  The two are linked by Willies infidelity after the death of Alice.  I would argue that this is why she doesn’t end up saying anything to Willie, because she still can’t talk about her daughter, and she desperately loves Lilah, so when she has the realization that she may not go to the wedding, or could ruin it with the divorce, she stays silent to keep everything for Lilah, and she decides to work through it since it was long ago.  This is a shot in the dark, I could be totally wrong, it was just interesting to me that the second she thinks about Lilah is where she decides that she will not confront him.

My favorite line from the story is when she says she’d never had a soul mate before.

This story really wasn’t what I had expected from the title, but it was interesting. The details given by the narrator of what he sees, who he is around, his life story and the lives of his friends, made it easy as the reader to create the scene of the story. Everything that Devon states in his story all create an idea that the world is unfair and everyone in it should be washed away. The people he is playing music for in the club/bar are all embarrassments to the human race. Or at least that is what he implies. He then goes into detail about how he lost his wife, his job and his kid after something happened when he was a teacher. I don’t know if I missed what happened, but I do not think the narrator tells us why he was fired from his job.

The stories of everyone he knows in the bar kind of match up with his. They all used to be someone else, and now rely on these people to come in and make fools of themselves. All of the characters stories are of them changing because of what the world has either made them, or what they have done to fit in better. Which kind of pulls the title into play because for Devon, he believes he has seen the worst of what life can offer. Which is why he plays louder and louder when everyone leaves. He wants to awaken whatever beast has been sleeping so he can challenge it. He has nothing left to lose, nor do any of the other characters because they have lost who they once were.

Lincolnites

This story is very short.  There is so much packed into such a small amount of space, and we are able to fully understand exactly how desperate the times are, and how Lily has just come to accept this as the way things are, and she doesn’t take it negatively, but does what she can to keep things running.  She kills the Vaughn without even thinking twice, as if there were no other option, even though she once knew him a long time ago.  The fact that she was familiar with this Confederate didn’t really change her resolution or her understanding regarding what needed to be done.  We see her working, even though she’s pregnant.  We see her send all of the money that could help her should he end up dying in war.  She hides it with him, when they could bury it in the back yard, but instead she sends it with him, where he could use it if need be.  We also see her working while she is pregnant.  Granted, she isn’t showing so much, but she is doing hard work just after having one child (a baby would take up almost an entire day leaving little or no energy to function, let alone work) and after getting pregnant with another.  Through the simple scene and seeing just part of her day, we learn so much about the character and her relationship, and the time.

This craft of this story proves Lee Smith is an expert.  The story jumps from the present, to the past (which is also generally in story form in the club), and each time the narrative shifts we can follow it seamlessly.  I never felt like it broke the stream to shift, but rather it seemed to always continue.  I absolutely loved the character of Alice.  The way she describes her motoring around was hysterical, and I got the impression from the nursing home that some things will never change, people will always be petty and it doesn’t matter what the setting is, people will always act the same.  I also loved that she was totally ready to hand–what she made sound like–the world’s best story to the writing club.  Regardless of what the club decided (although I’m sure it was a case of follow the leader in that particular decision making process) she was going to write something moving, not simply entertaining.  And she found a way around this.  I loved that she was going to scoot out of there on her own terms.  She wouldn’t even let the stroke get the best of her relationship, she simply adapted and seemed to nearly take it in stride, holding on to whatever she could.  She did so in a strong way, not in a pathetic or desperate sort of way.  Not like before when she was with the father of her first child.  We could see she wasn’t a senile old lady, she simply had a different way of viewing things.  From the outside, she would look like an entitled and slightly crazy (in that elderly sort of way) woman who we wouldn’t expect to have so much insight, but she does.  We also see through her insistence on constantly stating random facts that she desperately wants to be “all there”, she wants to convince us that she has her whole memory, and we see how much she values the fact that she can remember things.  She says that’s all they have are their memories, because it’s memories what make you.  As young people we struggle to construct ourselves, as an old person, you try and hold it together.  She asserts who she is, now that she knows.  However, I don’t think that all they are are their memories, I would argue that she shows us that she is capable of giving so much more than simply stories of memories, you continue constructing.

This story felt much different from Rash’s other stories.  The voice of the narrator seems to have less melancholy to it than the others, for some reason this story felt more depressing, which is strange considering when you really look at the story it’s a pretty pathetic place to be in life.  There’s something about the way the narrator explains everything that gives it an air of pride, that even though these people are at their worst, that there is a sense of home and uniqueness to it.  You could see it in his descriptions of country music too.  There’s what the Nashville wanted, and then there was down and dirty, what the narrator seems to consider “real” country.  There’s this same view of the Last Chance.  People are paying for their drinks with fillings, but the bartender doesn’t even flinch, because that’s just how it is.  But then there’s “Free Bird”, which everyone seems to identify with, and even though it was a huge commercial hit you can tell the narrator seems to have a connection with it too.  When he describes why it might have such an effect on people, this line made me think about the story in a whole different light: “Ronnie Van Zant didn’t have the talent of Gary Stewart or Steve Earle or Dwight Yoakam, but he did what he could with what he had.  Skynyrd never pruned their Southern musical roots to give them ‘national appeal’, and that gave their music, whatever else its failings, an honesty and an edge.” which is exactly how these people feel.  They may not have the same talent or “stuff” that makes up the great and successful people in this world, but they do the best with what they have, and that’s all they use.

None of the Above

This story had so many characteristics of a Rivecca story.  She has lots of similar themes throughout the collection, like school, abuse, and the most prominent, confusion.  Each story has a different level of confusion that the narrator is dealing with, a sort of A vs. B type of dichotomy that they are trying to grapple with throughout the narrative, which is what makes it so compelling and lifelike.  It’s the lack of understanding, and I think the fact that the characters never really come to a full comprehension of how to exactly articulate what it is that they feel that makes these stories so incredibly rich.  The heart of the matter is this: you can’t simply spell out life.  The real world isn’t made up of symbols that can explain everything to us, if we look for them hard enough.  Sometimes the growth and change isn’t understanding, but accepting or recognizing that we don’t understand.  Every single feeling and reaction that we encounter from Rivecca feels so incredibly real, it feels so poignant and I always know specifically and exactly which emotion she is tapping into, its never something we have to interpret or look for, it’s right out there for us to feel too.  This is the reason I love these stories so much.  They feel like real life.  I feel a heck of a lot of different things, and in the end, I don’t always have a firm conclusion, or a nice summation of exactly what happened, or what will happen now.

This was not the story I expected it to be, but so much more. I was not so much surprised at the setting- a nursing/retirement home- as I was with the fantastic character of Alice Scully. Her attitude was on point. I was taken aback at the point in which Martha Louise dictated that the literary meeting be called “Happy Memories Club” thus calling out Alice for her un-flowery writing topics and in a sense, trying to shut her out of the group. Alice, while she keeps hidden from us what she suffers from, has more of her marbles than any other character. Everyone else in the home seems completely jaded from living life, and yet Alice (despite being in and out of the health center of death) is so completely full of life. I found it exceptionally fantastic that Alice had her guns and ammo ready for Martha Louise and the rest of them to hear, and so fitting that her story of love again shocked them.

Alice’s story is about love and life and their intertwining. It’s about how things change and people change, and life doesn’t all have to be sad and long lost, but rather forever alive and brilliant through memories of love and life. If ever there was an old woman who had a kick left in her, it’s this old lady. Some people do not want to live long lives, for fear of the pain and lonliness that comes with losing everyone around them. Alice Scully, however, makes me want to live a long, long life.

While Lee Smith jumps from what is happening in the present, to inside Alice’s head, to Alice’s story as she continues to read, it never became difficult to follow. The entire piece, in that way, is just a constant stream of consciousness, inside and out as what she hears, reads, thinks, and sees are all combined in the orderly way that it does naturally for anybody. In all, this story seems very natural, very believable and true. We care about this old woman because we care about the connections she has made with others, and she cares too, because I believe its those connections that have kept her going. Throughout the story she distances herself from the nurses and the health center- the things that would keep her stationary and disconnected from Solomon, her most recent love.

None of the Above

I have always enjoyed Rivecca’s stories. This one, however, has to be my favorite. Even though it was longer than some we have read, it didn’t drag out. I never once got tired of reading it, nor did my attention stray from the story. I felt like the narrator was easy to relate too because if I were put in that situation, I would probably dig into the the reasons why a student would always come to class with gashes and scrapes. It’s logical to be concerned and wanting to know the truth, especially if it were a young kid.

I thought it was interesting how Peter was always so “perfect”. He never showed signs of abuse or anything like that, but he was different than the other kids. If I were put in the same situation as Alma, I would be concerned. When she sits down to talk to Peter’s parents, that is when she tries to get answers. Both parents are hesitant when answering her questions, which would point to abuse or something else, but when Peter tells her that he has a pet tiger living with them really surprised me. Honestly, I thought his story was very convincing seeing as he is younger and spoke to her like an adult about it. Which again, made the story more interesting because of how the narrator described the characters personalities and way they approach situations.

The day that Alma goes to see if Peter actually had the flu threw me off guard. I know I said that his story about a pet tiger was convincing, but I did not expect it to be true. Of course, her reaction to seeing the tiger was expected, but you always have to remember that a pet is a pet. If she had seen a dog, she would not have responded the way she did, which I thought was a little much. The tiger was not causing her harm, and the fact that Peter had trained it and what-not would make the tiger a safe animal. No parent would allow their child to be around a dangerous thing. At least, I would hope.

Finally, the scene at the end when Alma and Peter are in the kitchen, the narrator tells us that even though Alma was freaking out about the tiger, her biggest fear was what Peter said to her while she was on the phone. I too, would have been more afraid of him rather than the tiger because of how we have interpreted his character. I believed that he meant that one day she will be sorry for what she is doing. Peter has yet to lie or make it seem like he doesn’t follow through on what he says. All in all, I believe that the major issue of the story was Peter all along. Not abuse, not the gashes, the tiger, but Peter himself. It’s those types of kids teachers should watch out for, because no one really knows what they may be capable of doing in the future.

Alma’s character is a do-gooder. Her name, meaning “soul, nourishing” even identifies her as such. Her relationships are earnest and honest and true, but she is still missing something. Her husband Kurt had a past she did not know about until his interjection in this story. We don’t recognize Kurt as an important character until this happens and suddenly his childhood pain becomes a focal point of the story- the what if this kid Peter is also getting hit with a fire poker? Her husband’s desire to follow up on the child’s questionable injuries also marks the point at which he becomes more involved in her life. Until now, the extent of Kurts dialogue with her about her job and her day was a daily, off-handed, courtesy “hey did you show those kids who’s boss.” After Kurt becomes more involved, emotionally, he divulges his past abuse. We then discover that her work as a teacher has been a point of issue between them for some time. They see a couples counselor about it to save their sex life.

Kurt is the one who, in their speculation of Peter’s home life, tells Alma that she’s not trained to handle it alone, and that “it’s dangerous” (212). In truth, by the end of the story, we know that it is dangerous and she’s not trained to handle the situation, but in a different way. Its a nice surprise to find out that Peter is not getting abused by his parents, however the parents’ lack of judgement and  in the very least, supervision of the interactions between the tiger and the child is an incredible feature. Initially, I wanted to say that it wasn’t that bad- not as bad as child abuse.  But we are reminded of the story Alma recalls about the raccoon and the baby. That was a small animal, and it resulted in a child’s death. I asked myself what the point of this story was, and I’m not entirely sure. It has more to do with Kurt and Alma, and less to do with Peter and his parents. We know that this is told from the point of view of Alma, long after the incident occurred. We also know that the last line of the story flashes back to the single moment that has left an imprint on her, when she is calling the police and she apologizes to Peter and he responds with “No you’re not, but someday you will be.” I don’t know how to take that. I almost begin to believe that Peter was indeed being abused, perhaps verbally or emotionally by his parents, and maybe the tiger cub in all his dangerous nature, acted as a shield between Peter and his parents, for he was indeed attached to the animal. What was going to happen to Peter? Did his parents go to jail and he to a relative? Was it sadness he expressed for the loss of his tiger, or fear for what would happen to him after it was gone? The question remains, what would have happened if Alma hadn’t done anything at all?

This story by Ron Rash was unique in a few ways. The main character, Devon, has had everything go wrong in his life, and yet I don’t believe we are asked to feel sorry for him. Despite the depressing conditions all around him, he doesn’t seem to feel sorry for himself, either. The plot action is simply Devon at a crappy bar, playing his guitar. The entire story takes place over a period of, if I had to guess, maybe an hour. The conflict between Devon and his ex-father-in-law is the only current action conflict, but that is not what the story is about. That failure between these two men is just like the other failures that Devon mentions throughout this story; the failure to connect to people is overwhelmingly evident.

So at the end of his explanations and descriptions, we are left with a man who is just trying to get by in a world he doesn’t believe in. “Let God or evolution or whatever put us here in the first place start again from scratch, because this isn’t working,” (183). We are left wondering why he doesn’t leave and start over somewhere less hick, but then there’s the principal who made it so he would never get another teaching job- another failed connection. We are left wondering how on earth can be so sane, how he can stand being the only literate person in the room. It is ironic that the slovenly examples of humanity before him in the bar, have potentially more choices and options in their lives  than he does. I really wanted to know why this story was written. We trust Devon, despite his obviously explosive past that put him in the position he’s in now, yet we don’t feel sorry for him, so it can’t be about that. This must be a story about humanity, perhaps one that is meant to make us think on our potential to connect and our potential to fail. Is this a story of encouragement or warning? Is the importance of the ability to connect and this man’s failure at doing so despite his good intentions (now- since we don’t know if this second chance of his is a flip turn around from his past- perhaps he used to be like one of the drunks in the bar) a guide to living? An example of making the best of it?

While “Free Bird” is a country classic, and it is often used as a point on which to heckle performers who obviously don’t know it, it is described here as being a requirement on the playlist because the low life bar-goers need it like diabetics needed insulin. That is important to this story I think, the prospect of freedom, the irony of it and the lack thereof. Devon’s stand alone performance of Freebird seems futile and yet we know it isn’t about the performance anymore, it is about Devon. His bandmates are passed out, the bar-goers in a similar condition, Devon knows only the refrain and the guitar, and he is playing his heart out. I thought this was rather enduring of him, as enduring as the caged bird that sings.

I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change
And this bird you cannot change
Lord knows, I can’t change
Lord help me, I can’t change
Lord I can’t change

I was halfway through the story when I caught myself thinking: wait, this is really good old dry Ron Rash in this story? This story is anything but slow and dry. It is teeming with sound and movement, but it is almost still at the same time. The most defining characteristic of this story is that you are inside the main character’s head the entire time and you get to see exactly what he sees in society. He is tired of his own problems and he doesn’t want to necessarily deal with his problems anymore, but he projects his feelings out into the world around him.

You can see it the most in this line: “One of the great sins of the sixties was introducing drugs to the gool-ole-boy element of Southern society”. Some third person narrator isn’t telling you this. It is the character and what he says personifies him as an almost hopeless character, but he will keep on going because there is nothing else to do and he is just waiting. So, Rash uses the setting to give us insight to the main character but never directly tells us what the main character is going through in explicit detail. He just lets how the character reacts to things clue us in on what is going on.

none of the above

The first and last sentences of the first paragraph – “When she first began teaching, Alma promised herself that she would never wear a sweater with an apple on it… In two years of teaching third grade, the apple veto was the only vow she managed to keep” – do a good job of setting the story up for what will happen with Alma. She is at the same time hopeful about being able to help Peter in a personalized way and aware that she will probably fail. She wants to be able to treat Peter differently to prevent him from becoming a stereotypical survivor of abuse, just as she wants to keep herself from fitting into the stereotype of an elementary school teacher. It’s possible that Alma wants so badly to not be a stereotype because her husband was abused as a child and she is afraid that because she doesn’t have an equivalent tale of woe, he considers her childhood that of a typical white middle-class girl.

The story has to be set in a small, mostly rural town with a wildlife preserve nearby and, as Alma puts it, a “lopsided ratio of wildlife to humans” so that Peter’s possesion of a tiger cub is believable. The tale of the raccoon-eaten baby, also a product of the small-town setting, frames Alma’s understanding of a child in a family that keeps a wild animal as a pet. This also triggers Alma’s surprise at her reaction to first seein the tiger. Instead of immediately feeling as if she has to protect Peter from the tiger, as she would if instead she were faced with a raccoon chewing on a baby’s face, she asks it “what are you doing here?”, and so seems to recognize the tiger, almost as if it is some enemy she has fought before.

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What first really struck me in “Fried Chicken,” was the way Mrs. Pegram accepts they way she is shunned. “Who could blame [Mrs. Calhoun] for firing the murderer’s mother, for not wanting the murderer’s mother to be the one who knew where she hid her Xanax in the false bottom of her jewlery box, who knew that Johnny Calhoun required clean sheets every single day and wanted his underwear ironed, who knew that their daughter was an alcoholic? Who would want a murderer’s mother to know these things?” (254). Mrs. Pegram is a very submissive woman, and very accepting of the things she must deal with. To me, it would be a ridiculous claim to fire a long term maid on the grounds that she is the mother of a murderer and one wouldn’t want such a person knowing the idiosyncrasies of their home life– this seems so erroneous because it’s not as if Mrs. Pegram doesn’t know these things already, so fired or not, she would still know know about the Xanax and the achohol and the underwear. This disconnect in rational thinking  prepares readers for the personalities and dysfunctional relationships in Mrs. Pegram’s family and makes us more aware and sensitive to her situation.

Usually when I come across a character who is so submissive and unflappable, I get irritated with them because they never do anything, or they never attempt to stand up for themselves. However, I found myself feeling defensive for Mrs. Pegram, and sorry for her. Royal Pegram, robbed his wife of many things, and it felt good to see him suffer at the hands of Leonard. At first, I thought the scene with Leonard beating his father, was going to be the explanation of who Leonard had killed, and I was slightly disappointed when it wasn’t. I became very invested in Leonard and his mother at this point, and while I was slightly bothered that Smith never came out and said who Leonard killed and how it happened, I think it was fitting for Mrs. Pegram’s character to glaze over it in that way, “Mrs. Pegram pushes these awful thoughts out of her mind. She never, ever, thinks about it. And today, she’s got places to go! People to see!” (260). I came to really understand why Mrs. Pegram would be so accepting of getting fired from her job at the Calhoun’s. The Calhouns don’t want to think about it, they want to push the idea of murder, away. Mrs. Pegram respects this because she too, believes in pushing away awful thoughts and “never, ever,” thinking about the murder. This painful and yet somehow strangely encouraging story ends with Mrs. Pegram doling out her son’s fried chicken to a mother and son- an act of tenderness in memory of her young Leonard, an act of proving to others and herself her genteel nature as a nice lady. Through the fried chicken, Mrs. Pegram is able to separate herself from the nametag attached to her, “murderer’s mother.”

After reading the entirety of Rivecca’s story, I returned to its beginning to recall just how the escapade began. There is a lot of change that happens within this story, without a whole lot of physical changing and movement involved. The change is truly denoted in the way that the main character, Isabel, thinks of herself. Initially in the first two paragraphs I thought that I was reading about a girl who was indeed violated but had internalized it and was trying to brush it off as less serious. As I continued into the story I found that the landlord was not out of the ordinary but rather Isabel was hyper aware and over-exaggerated in her depictions of the landlord. Isabel, in her efforts to not appear offensive, seems naive and innocent, but with that facade in play she seems to lose touch with her own voice. Isabel continually questions herself, not in a productive way, but rather  tweaking her natural self (like the landlord said, she’s a chameleon) so that she can make the impression she wants to make. Unfortunately for Isabel, this makes her seem disconnected and as the landlord first recognized, “fragile.” Were that her true state of being, it would be fine, but she is a lot more resourceful and protective than that. In reality, Isabel is able to recognize the good in the landlord, and she is intelligent enough to know he’s right. Here is when she begins to feel uneasy, not because his actions makes her uneasy, but because suddenly she is aware of how uncomfortable she is with someone knowing the truth about her, as though she is inherently a letdown and that truth must be kept a secret. Isabel goes through great lengths to protect herself, but in the end she was scared not for her life, but scared by herself- what she had caused. This was the first time she had been caught doing what she had always done, and has not gotten away with it. Sadly, it seems that Isabel does not grow by the end of this story.

Fried Chicken

Right away I felt compassion for Mrs. Polly Pegram, even though she was “the murderer’s mother”. From the beginning it felt like she was a sad women even before I got to know her throughout this story. Mrs. Pegram has had a hard life, but she still goes through the routine of her day even though she’s the only one left in her home. It showed throughout the story that she wanted the best for Leonard.

I think the way Lee Smith wove the past with the present in this story was very succussful and enjoyable to read. For example, on page 254 she goes from talking about Lenoard and a converstation they shared to the steps of frying her chicken. It made me feel like I was actually in her head, hearing the things she is thinking while doing a task she has done so many times before.

The end was not what I was expecting, but it made me happy for Mrs. Pegram. Throughout the story you could feel the hurt she felt that her son had been taken away from her, but she was able to relive Lenoard’s favorite thing through another little boy.

I know I’ve said this so many times this year, but this is my new favorite story, especially since it took me a long time to warm up to Lee Smith.  Through the narration we understand that Karen is lonely, she is trying to find a place in the world that she’s accepted and noticed.  She was daddy’s little girl — that’s how she defines herself — and since her father had his mental breakdown (which she notes over and over again, calling it by name, emphasizing the fact that she needs to really come to terms with it because her mother won’t even say the word or explain it) she turns towards religion.  When she drops it like a hot potato after receiving negative attention for it how much she really wants to fit in.  Whether she is using church for a sense of community, or she is trying to find acceptance from God, she cares enough about how the town views her that she steps away from it in an attempt to better fit in.  But she also wants to be noticed and unique, she wants to be saved, and she wants her family to love her.  She is so suppressed by her mother’s idea of how to be perfect, and how to be a lady. which the narrator embodies but doesn’t feel unique.

The character identifies with her new friend because they both dislike how they live.  They try and trade, and use each other as a means to explore the other side of the coin, what their living situations limits them from experiencing.  Plus, having someone else to share everything with makes it all the more exciting.    When we see her outgrow her clothes it just emphasizes how she’s grown in understanding, and she doesn’t simply accept the silence with the innocence of before.  She doesn’t fit into the clothes, she doesn’t fit into her old way of thinking.  Not for lack of trying, but she won’t fit into the country club lifestyle that her mother strives for, either.  Everything she says, everything about her mother and her opinions on the smallest things, foods she likes and foods she doesn’t like, explains so much about her.  I loved when she talked about lady food, and how the crunchy cream of mushroom casserole was “lady food”, when we have seen in other stories that this is pretty much a staple dish and not only made by ladies.  I felt sorry for the narrator, she is young and pulled in so many directions, she’s naive, but she’s got a strength that allows her to try to break the mold and figure her own way.

My feelings towards this story are incredibly similar to my feelings on “Consummation”. I feel like it has a lot of conflict, drama, and interesting language going on, but I dont’ quite understand why. The length of the story obviously gives it more of an opportunity to divulge information, yet I don’t think it truly does. I suppose all of this is foreshadowed by the first line though.

As one of the longest stories we’ve had to read yet, I was both dreading and thrilled to begin. I was excited to see what dynamic and emotional storyline Rivecca could procure in the span of forty pages. I was disappointed. While I appreciate her imagination and believe she is a great writer, I don’t understand why I want to read the story. It’s creepy, it’s weird, and it’s like nothing I’ve read before, but I don’t know why it’s a story. These are almost exactly the same feelings I had towards “Consummation”. The story follows Isabel, who recently published a book and wants to find a new apartment. The landlord for the place she wanted is creepy, sends her weird emails, and eventually changed his opinion of her based on her book (which is a memoir). What I don’t particularly understand is why she is so paranoid about the contents of her memoir. A bit of explaining is done on page 154 but it doesn’t give me enough information to be able to relate to Isabel’s pain. Also, towards the ending, the court scene is played off as being a powerful situation in which Isabel overcomes her stalker. I just don’t see it. She says a few things and the judge apathetically grants her a restraining order. There is no moving exciting speech. I don’t mind that there isn’t, but why does it have to be written like she just made one giant leap for woman-kind? I feel like the story’s lost elements of clarity turn the story into a less effective, boring forty pages worth of bumbling.

What is interesting to me though, is that Rivecca tells us so. I mean, I feel like the story was a waste of reading it, but maybe she sees it that way as well. The first sentence in the story is “After it was over, it seemed silly to say shed been in danger.” Even she admits that the story is dramatized. At the same time though, I feel this is the opinion of Isabel, and not the opinion of the writer. It is all very confusing to me. Especially the conclclusion. I feel as the the story is just haphazardly wrapped up with no real ending or discovery, just a kind of apathetic passing of time. Which I suppose there is nothing wrong with, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

As is true for any story, maybe I just read it wrong. Maybe I came in to the story expecting something more grand than there really was. Maybe I missed the grandeur all together. Either way, I don’t think this story is effective, eye-opening, or interesting to me as a reader. I feel as apathetic, if not less engaged, after reading it then I did prior to and while I was reading it. Better luck next time.

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Consummation

“Consummation,” along with the lot of Rivecca’s short stories, reminds me of just how envious I am not only of her ability to create quite intelligent conflict throughout her stories, but also of her knack for crafting eloquent, twisted uses of language and syntactical flair. Making the narrator seem as if her intention was to thank the doctor who saved her father’s life when really she was to reveal the dynamics of her and her father’s relationship was not only surprising, but smart on Rivecca’s part. It added that certain element of content that “cutesy” or Disney-esque story plots don’t possess, making everything in those stories “fall into place” in the end. That decision to add a deeper material sometimes leaves questions, but the story is still all the more satisfying.

I noticed that throughout “Consummation” Rivecca used plenty of long sentences: something that has been pointed out in my own writing. They weren’t frustrating, but actually enlightening. I have a tendency to produce some sloppy sentences that are stretched to their limit with details and thoughts combined, but Rivecca’s lengthy sentences were consistent and precise in all their detail and mechanics. Some of her writing had me rummaging for my dictionary, but I thought that process was actually more refreshing than thwarting. Incorporating advanced or scholarly vocabulary into my own stories, I feel, would be quite the accomplishment, for they also add a new element to the voice of the narrator and their own character.

This story was very satisfying in its conflict development and “meatiness” as well as its syntactical unconventionality and profuse use of language. These elements are all something I envy, but also look forward to achieve in my own writing.

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