Home

Home is a coming of age story.  However, it works kind of backwards.  It takes a narrator who feels she’s an adult and shows her recognizing that she still has so far to go.  One of the ways that we see this is in the narrators struggle to find her new place in an old  and familiar setting.  Scenes from the past flit through the story and the narrator tries to come to terms with what happened when she was younger.  She may be twenty three and not want to go home–giving off the air that she feels she is adult enough not to–but we see that her relationship with her mother shows her as still being a child.

We will all stay the children to our parents no matter how old we get, they will always have that pull over us, but she lives in the house like I imagine she would have in high school.  She watches television with her mother, brings her magazines, and the daughter describes her mother in the beginning of the story and while it may be trying to portray a little annoyance, to me it sounds almost endearing.  They get in fights where the mother apologizes indirectly by showing she is upset, and the daughter tries to make it up to her by helping her.  My mom and I do that same dance every single time we have a disagreement.  That is my favorite scene in the entire story because I think it shows their relationship perfectly, and it’s just a beautiful moment:

“I realize I’m shouting.  And shaking.  What is happening to me?

My mother stares.

We’ll not discuss it, she says…

Sweetheart?  my mother calls from the bathroom.  Could you bring me a towel?

Her voice is quavering slightly.  She is sorry.  But I never know what part of it she is sorry about…I put the towel around her shoulders and my eyes smart…

Not too pretty is it, she says.  He took out too much whe he removed that lump–

Mom, it doesn’t look so bad…But you should have sued the bastard, I tell her.  He didn’t give a shit about your body…

Sweetheart, she says.  I know your beliefs are different than mine.  But have patience with me.  You’ll just be here are few more months.  And I’ll always stand behind you.  We’ll get along…She is sofragile, standing there, naked, with her small shoulders.  Suddenly I am horribly firghtened.

Sure, I say, I know we will.”

This is a long, very chopped up passage, I know.  But it gets me every time.  She hardly has to describe any of it really and we know they are trying to come to a reconciliation, and the mother lets the daughter know that even though she’s growing up, she will still be the backbone that a mother always provides.  The narrator even seems to feel the same protectiveness over her mother that her mother has over her–she shows this when she talks about suing the doctor.  The mothers support only makes the narrator feel more vulnerable, and act rashly and more childlike.  She searches for comfort in sleeping with an ex, and brings him home with her.  I can imagine her thinking that by doing whatever she wants she’s being an adult, but it was rash, and if she had thought about being responsible at all she wouldn’t have done it.  Her mother tries to stand behind her in the end, but is torn between her disapproval and her attempt to support.  They are both lost in the daughter’s transition from a child to an adult.

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Why I Live at the PO

The title for this story fits perfectly with the structure of it.  It’s told from a conversational, straight forward standpoint, and we aren’t given a lot of convoluted lines that we have to read into.  The narrator simply tells it like it is, and actually at the beginning of the story I was incredibly confused simply being thrown into the fray.  Even the voice of the character and almost, it seems, the dialect, feels incredibly real and genuine.  The narrator tells the story like we have stopped in at the post office, seen her things, and asked why she is living there.  The title is perfect, almost like the first essays that they make us write in when we are little when we talk about why christmas is our favorite holiday.

One of the things I liked best about this story was its ability to capture a true family dynamic.  We get the feuding sisters, the crazy uncle, the words taken out of context, and the parents coddling the baby of the family.  The narrator felt genuine and incredibly persuasive–I didn’t believe for a minute that the baby was adopted, and I believed that Stella Rondo was left by her husband too.  I find my judgements clouded by the narrators point of view and it wasn’t until I brushed over it again to write this essay that I discovered that I didn’t really have that much to back all of the narrators claims on.  We don’t know much about the past, everything is tainted by the narrators bias.  That, I think, is what makes this so enjoyable and true feeling, even though it is so humorous and absurd.  The narrator feels a hundred precent real, and I think that because we are unable to read more into the story it makes it feel like the situation I imagined above where she tells us the story.  By only being given the one point of view without much information to make our own judgements, we have to believe it, even if we don’t trust it.

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Meg

Piano Snow Globe

I ran them over.  I ran them over real good.  And when I was finished, I ran them over again.  I wanted to be good and sure I finished them off.  Xan thought it was enough.  He said that if I didn’t stop soon we would be late on the delivery, and that there wouldn’t be anything left to deliver.  If we were late the customer didn’t have to pay.   I was not going to let John get anything for free.  Sure, he would get his special occasion cakes, just not in the shape that he was expecting.

***

My older sister Meg never had a job in her life.  She was too busy with her perfect boyfriend, John, and mathletes.  My sister was the smart one, I was the musical one.  When I got the same teachers for math, and they found out that I was her sister they would always say, “Your sister was great with numbers, Harriet, I have high expectations for you.”  I never met them.  They don’t say that anymore.  No one wants me to be like her.

This year I decided to quit the marching band and get a job instead.  I was tired of everyone treating me like I was a delicate piece of glass, like I didn’t even exist anymore, or like they were waiting for something to happen.  I’m not her.  Mini band camp really sucked and I didn’t want to be at home and listen to Mom and Dad fighting about stupid things, and then acting like nothing happened.  They don’t talk to me anymore.  I just wanted some things to be normal again.

My sister loved to bake, and she was really good at it.  She would bake muffins and breads all the time.  The kitchen always smelled so good.  And every Christmas we would bake dozens of reindeer, Santa, bell, sleigh, and Jesus cookies, Christmas bark, and Christmas themed brownies.  We always had to give a lot away because none of us could ever eat it all.  Our cousin Mike would take the goods back to college with him and share with his fraternity, and about a month later we would get a thank you card from his house, that made us feel so special.  The last time she baked anything was when she was teaching me to make pear bread. I burnt two loaves.

Continue reading

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Richard Ford, “Winterkill”

Like all of Ford’s stories in Rock Springs, the narrator begins this story in the same way, fully aware of the fact that he is looking back, reflecting, completely aware that a retelling of a particular event is about to take place. Les, the story’s narrator, examines the concept of trust and what it means when someone cannot be trusted. He is confronted with this issue of lying in order to protect his disabled friend, Troy.

Les indicates the existence of an underlying theme to the parallels that exist between his mother’s relationship with Harley Reeves and Troy’s disability: the desire to lead a normal life. By the end of the story, Les has come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to lie in order to convey some degree of normalcy in life and to protect another person.

“And I thought about the matter of trust. That I would always lie if it would save someone an unhappiness. That was easy. And that I would rather a person mistrust me than dislike me…” (pg. 169)

To Les, lying in order to protect another person from disappointment and hurt, essentially to keep them from the harsh realities of the world, is completely acceptable. I think honesty is an admirable quality. Lying isn’t easy and always has the potential of hurting others, creating unhappiness when the truth comes out. I am not sure I completely agree with the narrator’s stance on the matter of trust, but I can empathize with wanting to protect someone you care about.

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Jayne Anne Phillips, “Home”

This is a story about a 23 year girl who has returned home to live her mother after she has lost her job. I think that the lack of quotations throughout the story helps to create disjointed feeling that corresponds with the narrator’s experience of coming home again after being on her own and living by her own rules. The lack of conversation builds upon the awkwardness that exists between the narrator and her mother as their worlds collide. The story examines their relationship as the narrator attempts to introduce certain aspects from her previous independent life into her current life of living under her mother’s rood again. There is a overall sense of a lack of understanding, which is further amplified by the lack of dialogue. We get the idea that the two women are just trying to tolerate one another, tip toeing around the various generational gaps. I think that any college student can relate to this “my house, my rules” mentality that is projected by the mother’s disdain for her daughter’s behavior. She pushes her mother’s limit by disrupting the shared space, her mother’s environment.

I had a hard time understanding the various allusions to sexual encounters and I am unsure as to their significance to this story as a whole. Perhaps this is the common ground between mother and daughter: that they both have experienced and been scarred by negative relationships with men.

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Wells Tower, “The Brown Coast”

Tower’s short story, “The Brown Coast”, is written in a close third person narrative. However, this switch in vantage point is almost easily forgotten, because Tower still manages to provide loads of descriptive, inner reflections from Bob’s perspective, the story’s main character and narrator. We view the events of the story through Bob’s eyes, we hear his thoughts, and understand his emotions.

Tower uses metaphorical language to convey the emotional complexities Bob experiences throughout the story. Through the creation of these clever analogies, Tower is able to fully describe the different feelings both literally and figuratively, to a degree that is otherwise difficult to achieve from other methods of description.

When describing Claire, the wife of his neighbor, Derrick, Bob almost always draws attention to her the condition of her skin. For example, on page 9, “She was pretty, but she’d spent too much time in the sun. She was pruned over and nearly maroon, like a turkey beard”. Bob continues this theme of comparing Claire’s skin to various meat products. On page 11, he notes the condition of her skin again: “A saw-edged scar ran down the back of her hand, standing out pink and tender on the skin there, which was the color of pot roast”. Through these descriptions, we can get a sense of the ragged wear and tear that has been projected on her skin. Bob doesn’t seem to be disgusted by the way Claire’s skin looks. On page 17, Bob describes the way Claire looks when she is naked, about to join Derrick and Bob for a swim. “Across her breasts and oval hips, her skin looked soft and new and pale as a paraffin”. Throughout the course of the story, as Bob gets to know Claire, his attraction to her becomes apparent through the ways he describes her skin. Through this description, it becomes increasingly clear that Bob is in fact physically attracted to Claire. However, following this particular description, Bob immediately thinks of his own wife, Vicky, and the distance between them. He contemplates all of the hard work it would presumably take to fix things between them, comparing the amount to “more than a hundred patios”. We get a sense of the parallel relationship between the two worlds. For Bob, by fixing up his uncle’s house, he is ultimately trying to improve the living space, much like working to fix his marriage with Vicky would improve the turmoil of his life, essentially his living space.

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Response to Bobby in Sweethearts

And, see, I don’t think that the lack of action means a lack of drama or emotion. It certainly doesn’t mean a lack of emotion to me at least. I think that I agree with Heather in that this is a strange relationship, it is one that is twisted in a way because Bobby does indeed want what Russ has but he cannot express it as such. Perhaps this is why Arlene left. But Bobby not being able to express his emotions does not mean that he does not have them. He does, he just can’t get anything right in his life to say them. It seems that the only person he does talk to in any emotional way is Cherry, which is strange because she has no blood relationship to Arlene, which seems to be the person he most wants. It also seems that Bobby’s relationship to Cherry is out of a necessity to be a part of a family that he would never be able to have because he cannot express emotion. This is not my favorite Richard Ford story that we have read, and I enjoyed it less than the others, but I don’t think it should be discounted because of its content. It is a simple story, but it is also the simple things that make our life count and which are worth something.

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Response to Ambient Unease in Down Through the Valley

Of the stories that we have read by Wells Tower this is by far my favorite, and really, the only one that I enjoyed. I think that you have something when you say that there is a “dread and cruelty lurking” behind the margins of the scene. I have to agree with you and I also think this is why I like the story. I like the contained violence that Tower can communicate to the reader- the fact that Ed is so contained that when he does erupt he erupts fully and there is no going back for him. He is trying to be the savior figure for Barry but instead he becomes a monster to him and this is a part of the pain that this story conveys in not being able to articulate Ed’s ability to communicate. This disease leads us ‘down through the valley’ both literally and figuratively and where it leads us is not to a happy place but one which is overt in its ability to show pain. Ed is a tool to show this agonizing self-destruction, it is almost as if he is being eaten away at, slowly and slowly until he explodes. The publicity of the event just adds to the pain that he feels when he realises that he is no longer a help at all- something that he wanted to be able to show people he was when he agreed to take Barry.

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Response to Shame in Richard Ford’s “Children”

I think that it was the opposite for me in saying “that while George may act the least like a child, to me anyway, he is missing something his friends understand.” To me, George is thinking, and so is Lucy. Claude may seem like he is at the end but he really isn’t. The foreshadowing of the whitefish show some insight into that because they are fishing (especially Claude) for worthless fish for nothing. They don’t need to the fish but they are slowly killing them with their actions- not unlike how Sherman treats everyone else. What makes this most apparent though is the detail that Ford gives us into the characters and also into the circumstance. The story gives us insight into these things though. We begin to understand these characters and who they are because of their actions and what they do. Who are these people? Why have they chosen to do these things?

The reader doesn’t really know anything about Lucy except that she is young and has been out in the world for two days by herself. I think that this is a great fete to make the reader so interested in a character that you don’t even really know. I think that shame is a varied and strong point for their lives, but I think the reason George doesn’t feel any shame is because he is the good spirit in this story. Lucy and Claude have done some things that don’t seem to be right and which they have to live with. There is something about shame that stays for such a long time, not only on the judgement by the outside world as Ford talks about but also the regret that comes with the world. I really enjoyed this story because of the little anticodes about the characters as well as the insight that is given to us.

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“Home” by Jayne Anne Phillips

The first thing that I noticed about this story was that there were no quotation marks to mark dialogue.  At first I thought that the narrator was just going to be telling us what the mother said, but as I read it didn’t work that way.  By that  I mean that the narrator was not just saying that the mother said something, which would not need quotes, but actually having the mother say it.  Quotes are used in the story only when the narrator or mother is speaking and saying that someone else said something.  Personally, I like quotes.  I think that they make it easier to follow the different people speaking, and it brings the reader into the story more.  Without them, the quotes, it is like the author is trying to keep the reader back, not as close to the story as we would be if there were quotes.  This story reads as though the narrator is telling us what happened without really showing us.  While I read this story I felt like I was sitting in someone’s living room listening to them tell me a story of their life.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy this story, I think that it was written very well, I just had the feeling that I was missing something.

I never felt like I really got to understand the narrator.  By the end of the story I wanted more.  I wanted to be in her head, know what was really going on in there.  Just more insight in general.  I felt like I knew the mother better than her, by the end.  I didn’t even realize that the narrator was female until I was at least four pages into the story, kind of like how a lot of our stories in class were.  I understand that you can pick up a lot about a character by the way he or she describes things and people, but in this story it just wasn’t enough. It’s like we learned in class, a first person story is about the narrator which means that the reader has to know enough about the narrator for it to really work.  I know that we talked about some first person stories that are about others and not the narrator, but I do not believe that this is one of them.  Which means that I need more about the narrator.  I have read this story twice now, and  I still feel the same way.

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