I’m going to get myself in trouble here. Because I didn’t think much of this story, and I seem to be the only person on the planet – including the Tin House editors, Richard Russo, and whoever it is that decides who wins the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award – who felt it was manipulative and trite. But come on – Lyndee doesn’t like Jared, our ten-year-old narrator, because his clothes smell bad, so he fantasizes about protecting her from imaginary bears, Mom and Dad are crackheads (or whatever the drug is, meth I’m told) and Mom’s making a Christmas tree by draping tin foil over logs in the fire, and Dad swipes the ring ten-year-old Jared swiped off a dead body and buys more crack (plus a box of Lucky Charms and a beat-up old bike). And Jared would rather spend time in a plane with two dead bodies than with the dying bodies he lives with. What, no “Please, sir, I want some more”?
Maybe I’ve become hardened. But I don’t think so. I’ve read stories about children in tough situations that broke my heart – “Summer, Boys” and “All Boy” to name two very recent ones. Maybe I’m just not up to unrelenting misery and injustice, a la “Rollingwood”. Maybe I’m just read out. Maybe if I read it again in a few months I’ll feel differently. But it just felt like overkill.
Originally published in Tin House, this story is included in the collection Burning Bright which won the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award in 2010. So I’m a little nervous posting this. But I swore I’d be honest in these comments, and I felt jerked around, with every possible woe heaped on this kid. And of course, it’s Christmas. Maybe that was the tipping point. I’m not naïve; I know there are kids who live this kind of life. I didn’t feel compassion or empathy with this kid. I just got annoyed at the author standing over my shoulder saying “Look how bad it is!” every three paragraphs.
I guess I still have a lot to learn.