Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Day Two with This Close

Join Margie and Sue as we discuss a new short story collection we both love: This Close by Jessica Francis Kane (Graywolf Press 2013). 

Sue: I think my favorite story in This Close was The Essentials of Acceleration. Each time I look at the story, I see something new. In fact, to have this chat with you I reread it, underlining and taking notes, and finally I just had to call you to talk about it. Honestly, there is so much there.

Margie: I loved how it started out with such understatement. The narrator Holly speaks with such a flat tone that you underestimate her, might even dislike her. Here's a 41 year-old woman who has lived with with her widowed father for 20 years, ever since her mother died in a car accident. She says: 
I am the neighbor you don't know. The neighbor who doesn't do anything wrong, but for some reason you just don't like her very much. Maybe it's the way she treats her elderly father. You think she could be nicer.
Sue: Holly's inability to open up to anyone, even her father, makes me wonder if she is consumed with resentment about the way her life has turned out. It seems she doesn't have a single friend other than Leo the mechanic.

Margie: Yes, what was up with Holly and her crush on the mechanic, and her thing for cars? Her father seems like this adorable little old man, a retired English professor who loves books and gardening (a dream dad, if you ask me), but Holly doesn't share any of his interests. Instead, she'd rather think about cars. 

Remember the scene where Holly and her dad are driving somewhere, having a discussion about cars? The dad doesn't even know that the car Holly drives is a Taurus and she gets pissed at him. There's an uncomfortable silence and then the dad says, " 'Ask me for my biography and I will tell you the books I have read.' Do you know who wrote that?" Holly has no idea. She's not a reader. Instead she volleys back: 
"Fiesta, Taurus, maybe next an Expedition. Do you know what those are?
My father shook his head.
"The names of the cars I've owned."
 Jeez, what great dialogue. That is so not about the cars!

Sue:  No kidding. And then the dad says, "I think you needed a different kind of father." Isn't that sad? He blames himself for their lack of connection. He doesn't say, "I wish I had a different kind of daughter."

Margie: I know. That killed me. Because it's not so much that Holly needed a different kind of father, she just needed her mother. One of Holly's fondest memories of her mother was when she taught Holly how to drive in high school. Some of the best mother-daughter bonding goes on in a car, right? Especially with teens. So, . . . not to play therapist here or anything, but do ya' think Holly's just trying to hang onto her mother? That all this car stuff is her way of saying not so much "I don't like you, Dad," but rather "I miss you Mom"?

Sue: And instead of letting herself grieve, and share her grief with her dad (or anyone else for that matter) she'd rather put her foot on the gas. It's titled The Essentials of Acceleration after all. I think it's significant that Holly's dad was at the wheel when her mom was killed. He swerved to avoid hitting a deer. Holly probably thinks that if her dad was a better driver, her mom would still be alive.

Margie: Holly keeps insisting what a good driver she is, but yet she's really pretty bad at  it. She has one accident, one near-miss, and then hits a box turtle, all in one short story. So if she faults her dad for being a bad driver, she's really no better. She's such an unreliable narrator. So lacking in self-awareness it's almost funny. 

Sue: The story about Holly's accident is so revealing. First it sounds as if she swerved to avoid hitting a little boy, but later Holly admits the truth: 
It was not seeing the boy in the street that cause me to drive my car into the parked Lexus after my Wednesday burrito. It was seeing my my neighbor put her arm around my father, . . . And by that I mean it was seeing the way my father leaned into her, a small collapse, as if he were bone tired and he knew she would support him. I knew they were friends. . . . he enjoys talking to her about the books they've both read. Until that moment I didn't know how much the friendship mattered to him.
I think it surprised Holly to see what a true, compassionate friendship her father had with the neighbor woman. Holly's dad was closer to their neighbor than he was to Holly. 

Margie: And not just that, but Holly's dad was closer to their neighbor than Holly was. Holly was unfriendly to her neighbors, and at first you think she's just a bitch, but later in the story you learn it's all part of a very sad defense mechanism. As Holly says:
. . . are you being a bad neighbor or just protecting yourself? I really want to know because I'm interested in what we can and can't do for each other. What is fair to ask? . . .  Can you ask someone why she lives alone with her father? Where her missing mother is?
I think the answer is yes. A neighbor can become a friend if you let them. You can see how close Holly's dad was to their neighbor, but Holly wouldn't go there. Holly thought she was living "with the disaster" as well as she could, but she really wasn't. Not at all. Poor Holly! I don't know if I want to slap her or hug her! 

Sue: Okay, before you get carried away, let's shift gears and talk about your favorite story in This Close.

Margie: (Shift gears? Ha ha!) Well, my favorite story was Next in Line. But we're going to save that discussion for another post. Because that's a whole 'nother story!

THIS CLOSE by Jessica Francis Kane: Highly Recommended

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