Friday, April 26, 2013

One More Story From This Close

This is the third post in which Sue and Margie talk about a short story collection they both loved called This Close by Jessica Francis Kane. This time they're talking about Margie's favorite story, Next in Line. 

We tried to talk about this story without revealing key plot points, but decided we were tiptoeing around too much. So if you want the story to reveal itself to you first, maybe you should go read it and then come back and join our discussion. 

Margie: I loved Next in Line, the story about a young mother who believes her toddler caught a fatal case of meningitis in line at a CVS, or as her husband liked to call it, "Come Visit Satan." I don't know if I will ever go into a CVS again without thinking of this family.

Sue: God point. I will always think of Jessica Kane when I go into that store!

Margie: The mother says she thinks of CVS as a "secular gateway," and I couldn't agree more. We go there for prescriptions, pregnancy tests, diapers, sympathy cards and almost everything else in between. It's part divine, part utterly banal, such an overlooked and random place in our lives. How perfect that Kane set her story there.

Sue: As much as I loved Next in Line, it made me uncomfortable, like I should let this poor woman/couple grieve in private. Who can imagine such a tragic thing, and who knows how they would respond.

Margie: But isn't that what literature does best? It enables us to imagine a tragic thing, to process it, as if by observing someone else go through it, we can begin to make grief less solitary, less frightening. I get why the mom haunted the aisles of the CVS after their daughter died. Maybe good stories are like an inoculation, a little protection against our own pain. (And can't you get inoculations at a CVS now too?)

Sue: I get why the mom haunted the aisles of the CVS, but I was worried throughout the story that this terrible tragedy would destroy her relationship with her husband and I didn't want that to happen. Men and women usually have such different ways of grieving, and you can see why often something as sad as this tears a couple apart. I like the way it appeared that wasn't going to happen here. Enough time had to pass and then they were going to be okay.

Margie: But how awesome is that? You're talking about this make-believe couple as if they are real. You worry about them and want them to be okay. And to go back to the last story we discussed (The Essentials of Acceleration), this is the real kind of grief - the deep, messy, scary kind of grief - that Holly never seemed to have. The mom in this story blamed herself for putting her baby down on the floor for just a moment, and she couldn't get over it. She was in such pain that she couldn't even call her baby by her real name throughout the whole story - she just called her "S." But she didn't try to "accelerate" through the grief, she kept going back to the CVS until she found a way to forgive herself. Even if she was pretty wacko to keep going back, her husband finally went there with her and talked her through the pain and guilt. Until his wife could say: "My daughter's name was Susanna Jane. End of story." Wow, what an ending!

By the way, I just went to a CVS yesterday. The pharmacist was very nice. There were no creepy ladies in black muttering scary prophecies. But just in case, I used the hand sanitizer in the back of the store next to the pharmacy counter. So that's good.

Sue and Margie Highly Recommend: THIS CLOSE by Jessica Francis Kane. 

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