Let’s be real. No one cares what someone else is reading… unless you are reading the same things. These short stories are from 2008… I highly doubt they are still being circulated in relevant places. Buuuuuut, it doesn’t really matter in the end whether you’ve read them or not. This post still exists.
I was very confused while reading Child’s Play, by Alice Munro. Immediately you know that you are reading a story being told by an adult woman about her childhood. However, you are jumping between memories. There’s the primary memory about Charlene, a childhood friend, at a summer camp. Although it was once, we learn at the end why these friends are forever connected. At first, I thought maybe they were lovers.
Marlene (the narrator) describes Charlene with a kind of affection that adults don’t really attach to a one-time-summer-camp friend. There has to be a special connection between the two. However, Marlene describes the type of relationship she has with any female: “I’ve observed but never taken part in these female exchanges. Not truly. Sometimes I’ve pretended because it seemed to be required, but the woman I was supposed to be making friends with always got wind of my pretense and became confused and cautious.” Obviously Marlene doesn’t connect well with other women… which convinced me that Charlene was her lover because their relationship seemed to be the only time she connected with another girl.
Then Verna. This is the other memory the story will switch. Verna is mentally handicapped (at least that’s how she is described), and Marlene absolutely hates her. I don’t really understand how a child could learn this hate.. but I think that’s how the hate begins. Mentally handicapped people make everyone else reeeally uncomfortable.. that’s the reality of it for those who do not have family members whom are themselves handicapped.
Marlene probably read this in her mother’s disposition, and this created an inner hate: “I didn’t believe my mother really liked Verna either.” But Marlene goes so far as to say:
only adults would be so stupid as to believe she had no power. A power, moreover, that was specifically directed at me. I was the only one she had her eye on. Or so I believed. As if we had an understanding between us that could not be described and was not to be disposed of. Something that clings, in the way of love, though on my side it felt like hate.
I basically thought she was in denial at this point, and secretly was in love with Verna. Special people deserve love too!! However, because of this hate, Marlene would get highly annoyed when Verna came around. In the yard. At school. And, at the summer camp.
This clearly ties the two memories together. And, what I was thinking, the summer camp brings the two lovers into the same vicinity. For the most part, Verna stayed away. It had been years since she saw Marlene, would she even recognize her? Charlene helped Marlene avoid Verna nonetheless.
The story switches to the present, and Marlene describes how Charlene and she lost touch. Marlene is now an Anthropologist writing about the mentally handicapped and other cultures, and Charlene is married with kids. Marlene’s topic of choice.. and the fact that she never married further supported my idea of thinking she and Verna had something. The loss of connection between Charlene, who meant so much, and Marlene also supported the idea that something happened between them.
Charlene has cancer and asks for Marlene to come to her. In a note, she sends Marlene to a Catholic church to have Charlene forgiven before she passes…. why didn’t she go do that before she ended up in the hospital?? Marlene made a trip to no end. There wasn’t a Father willing to forgive her.
side note: I feel like I have to correct this meme your = you’re
At last, there is a memory of the last day of summer camp. You wanna know what connects Charlene and Marlene through all those years even though there was a disconnect? Do you know why Marlene is obsessed with how different cultures handle the mentally handicapped? Do you want to know why Marlene doesn’t think she is worthy of being loved???
They killed Verna.
Yes. You read that freaking right. Charlene and Marlene spontaneously murdered Verna… I use spontaneous because that is how Marlene describes it… freeing herself of guilt. They didn’t plan it. WTF. Just because you didn’t plan on holding Verna under water while she fought for the surface DOESN’T MEAN YOU AREN’T PSYCHOTIC. But I guess Paige understands… she tried to drown Emily to drown away her feelings. Except, Paige didn’t have a Charlene to help.
The next story, Buying Lenin (by Miroslav Penkov), doesn’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. However, it is quite a sorrowful story. The narrator is a boy in his early 20s from Bulgaria. He is telling the story about his grandfather. The man who basically raised him. The story opens up saying that the narrator is going to America for college, and his grandfather opposes because he is a communist. The narrator, at 17, is living by himself. We learn that his grandmother died when the narrator was 8. Then his parents died when the narrator was 12. And his grandfather is the primary person who teaches him to be the man he is before leaving for America. Most of the story is about the grandfather.. giving us a background of what he has been through. The narrator finds this important, so we need to as well, right?
G-pa was not a communist at first. He took to the woods, hiding from those who took over. But, he was starving, so G-pa gathered up courage and went back to the village. There “people walked free, and their dark eyes glowed with the spark of something new, great, and profoundly world-changing.” G-pa immediately became a communist. Found a woman. Had a baby boy.
The memories are switching back and forth with the narrator’s experiences at college. Funny:
‘Welcome to America,’ they said in one warm, friendly voice. They had good, honest faces. We shook hands. Then in the car they gave me a Bible.
‘Do you know what this is?’ the girl said, very slowly and very loudly.
‘No,’ I said. She seemed genuinely pleased.
‘These are the deeds of our Savior. The word of our Lord.’
‘Oh, Lenin’s collected works,’ I said. ‘Which volume?’
There’s a memory of catching crawfish, just the narrator and his g-pa. It was sweet.
Then the memory of his grandma dying… the love of g-pa’s life dying. The narrator says: “it must have rained inside Grandpa too, but he shed no tears.” There is apparently no priest at a communist funeral. What does a priest do anyway? No one wants to hear prayers. No one wants to hear that the dead are in a better place. That doesn’t make ANYONE feel better. But Grandpa didn’t just lose his heart. He lost his love… Communism. The Communist party fell a month before grandmother died. Grandpa stayed in the village his wife died.. and over years, the Communist party rose again with Grandpa at the head.
The night the narrator’s parents died… they were on the way to the hospital to see Grandpa, who had had a stroke. A truck hit them.
A funny memory during the narrator’s sophomore year in college… Grandpa calls and asks the narrator to buy Lenin on eBay…
Yes. That’s what I thought. That’s what the narrator thought. Grandpa knows it may be a fake. But he says he’ll believe what he wants to believe because he’s too tired to keep facing reality.
Flashback to the narrator’s 16th birthday. Grandpa buys the narrator a BMX bike… what he didn’t know is that the narrator’s parents had also bought a BMX bike for the birthday right after they died… so the narrator has an emotional breakdown. Tells Grandpa he wishes he’d died instead.. that it’s his fault the parents are dead. Grandpa leaves town.
The last phone conversation that the narrator has with his Grandpa is full of laughter. The narrator gets a letter from his Grandpa. The letter says
Grandson, we’ve had a hard life, you and I. We grew old, not with years, but with deaths. You are now one death older. Carry this baggage with dignity, and don’t let it break your back. Always remember that you’ve suffered a lot more than many, but that others have suffered even greater pains. Be thankful for what you have. For what you’ve seen and for what you’ve been spared from seeing… Sinko, I love you.
See now why I thought this story was sorrowful??
Vampires in the Lemon Grove…. ‘nuf said. Karen Russell certainly took a fantastical approach to story telling. I enjoyed the story. It was an interesting take on Vampires. Clyde is a Vampire. He lives in a Lemon Grove.. he more than lives there.. he is now growing moss all over his unmoving body there. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. However, he is settled on a lemon grove in Sorrento, Italia with his wife, Magreb. Why a Lemon Grove? Why not a cave where there is cover from the sun? Why not in a cemetery like Buffy-vampires do so Clyde can suck the blood of stupid teenagers running around a grave yard in the middle of the night? Why in Italy, where crosses and garlic are EVARYWHERE? At one point, Clyde probably would not have lived there. He was the only Vampire he knew. So he lived in a cave, and killed adults because of blood-hunger, and he hid from crosses and garlic. He even wore a cape so that everyone feared him like they feared Dracula. But then Clyde met Magreb… and she told him that none of those things are true.
Of course Clyde didn’t believe her, at first. But now he lives in a Lemon Grove… in Italy… where he sits day in and day out eating the fresh lemons. It turns out that the lemons get rid of the hunger as effectively as blood does. So Clyde and Magreb live here. It’s only Clyde’s love for Magreb that helps the hunger: “Because I love her, my hunger pangs gradually mellowed into a comfortable despair.” But, centuries later, the lemons aren’t working any longer. Magreb wants to go. Clyde is too scared to leave. Clyde: a Vampire who used to be feared, a Vampire who sucked blood, a Vampire who terrorized humans. He is too scared to leave, but doesn’t want Magreb to leave him alone. This is understandable, “I gave up more than I intended: I can’t shudder myself out of this old man’s body. I can’t fly anymore.” Clyde cannot face the world as he once was, why face it at all?
In the story, Fila is a girl who also lives in the Lemon grove. She knows that Clyde is a Vampire. She doesn’t stay away from him, but becomes his friend. She obviously needs to watch Buffy.. she’s as stupid as those kids walking through the grave yard. Under the impression they were friends, Fila teases Clyde about his Vampire-ness. This strikes Clyde the wrong way given all his emotional distress… and then he bites her, drains her dry, and becomes whole: “I am a monster again.”
The story ends with Clyde going to Magreb’s cave… now that he has gained some of his pride back, he is ready to go elsewhere. He is ready to do what he and Magreb need to do.
This time there is a 4th story. It is simply called Puppy, by George Saunders. The story is about two women, each the opposite of the other. Marie is raising her kids the way she wished her abusive parents had raised her. Callie is raising her children with love. But how these two women go about doing these things are completely different… and in the end Marie judges Callie for the appearance of her household, rather than her intention.
The story opens up with Marie describing how wonderful her life is: perfect husband, wonderful kids, the works… “family laughter was golden.” She compares this life to the abusive one she had as a child growing up. Good for her, for raising her kids in a loving home. They are even on their way to go pick a puppy up (at Callie’s home).
Callie’s life isn’t as perfect. Her son has a mental disability, and he keeps escaping the house… almost getting killed each time. Her man kills animals. But he only does it because he has to… because they have too many. When Callie is describing her life, though, it doesn’t seem that bad: “that’s what love was, liking someone how he was and doing things to help him get better.”
It’s Marie that makes Callie’s life worse. She describes the mess of the house. She describes Callie’s weight. She describes the smell. But she tries to be better than the judgmental person she actually is, and thinks: “life will not necessarily always be like this. Your life could suddenly blossom into something wonderful. It can happen. It happened to me.” WHAT is wrong with Callie’s life? Just because things aren’t as neat and clean as you’d like them, Marie, doesn’t mean the home isn’t full of love… which is what your childhood was lacking.
What pissed me off about Marie… is the fact that she leaves the place… won’t even take the damn puppy. She leaves and plans on calling Child Welfare about Callie’s son, who is chained up in the yard. The son is chained up because he keeps escaping. The son is chained up because Callie doesn’t want harm to come to him. The son is chained up outside because it is better than him being cooped up inside for days and days. The son is chained up because his mother loves him. Marie doesn’t know this…
I can’t completely dislike Marie. Because… if Callie can’t afford the proper care for Bo, he should be taken to someone who can. So this is report-able… but there is no neglect going on here. What Marie should have been worried about is the damned puppy. This family was trying to get rid of the puppy so they didn’t have to kill it. Now, Callie has to kill it. She’s chosen to let it starve in the middle of a field. DAFUQ?!
That’s what happens, I guess, when you meet people on Craigslist and you don’t know what’s going on.
Hope you all enjoyed this post!