BASS 2010: Wayne Harrison – “Least Resistance”

I typically sit down to read a story when I have sufficient time – at least a half hour, more likely an hour – to read it, think for a few minutes, jump through it looking for answers to any questions that have sprung up, read it again, think some more, etc. But for some reason, I was waiting for my computer to get itself warmed up (you have no idea) so I picked up BASS 2010 which happened to be on top of the pile of books I’ve left on my printer (including What If? and the Ha Jin collection) and read a few paragraphs of “Least Resistance.” Something happened – I’m not sure what – but I was called away, and I was surprised at how disappointed I was that I couldn’t continue reading this story about a bunch of grease monkeys. The car-fixing kind, not the software package. Do they still call mechanics that?

At any rate, I have less than no interest in cars. I don’t even drive unless I’m forced to do so, I hate them so much. But there was something about the opening paragraphs – Nick the superstar mechanic, the narrator who sees himself “transformed from pathetic teenager to minor superhero” by him, the customer who is reporting what seems to be a problem with Nick’s work, another employee who jumps to find out what the problem is – that gripped me. I couldn’t wait to get back to these guys and find out if Nick had goofed, why it was freaking the narrator out so much, and what the story was about. I was pretty sure it wasn’t about cars, though I hadn’t read anything but cars so far.

Sure enough, it wasn’t about cars. It was about a marriage, about relationships, about tragedy, about love, and about the ability of people to be at their best when at their worst. I even enjoyed the car talk. And there’s a lot of it. In fact, at times it seems a little aggressive. The author was a grease monkey himself right after high school, according to the afternotes, and occasionally I get the sense he’s pouring it on a little thick – “see, I really do know about this stuff.” But that’s not a big deal. What the characters do is perfectly rendered, another instance of that inevitable surprise. And I think the first page, which left me so eager to return, embodies the idea of narrative tension; I had to read on.

An exquisite story. Not fancy, but emotionally true and very moving, and, yes, surprising.

(I have discovered a Zoetrope office which will be reading the BASS 2010 stories starting this month. I had already made notes on this one, but I will now stop until the office catches up – which may take a few months, depending on how fast they go. I have plenty of other things to read – finish Ha Jin, new New Yorker stories, the backlog from last year, and the collections I haven’t even mentioned yet, not to mention novels.)

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