Kenneth Calhoun: “Then” from Tin House, Spring 2011, The Mysterious

Art by Ronfromyork on

Who could have ever thought of it all and how did human living get so cluttered with detail? For a lucid moment, she believed she understood that the epidemic was somehow connected to this accumulation of practical – not ornamental – details. A threshold had been reached.

This is one of those weird stories. I don’t quite have a handle on it yet (that will require diagrams with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back), but I’m obsessed with it. It’s basically (forgive my bluntness) a dead-baby story. At least, I think it is. But it’s a lot more than that.

At one point new mom Jorie is confused because she is suddenly pregnant with the baby, who’s already been born: “She felt confused and grounded at the same time. That was why, she recognized. Because everything is happening now at the same time.” Adam, the husband, has already noted, “The flow of reality now had jump cuts.” He is in the chair, then in bed, without anything in between. And the baby talks several times, tells them not to answer the phone: “It’s undoubtedly those telemarketers again.” And tells Adam a bedtime story as creepy as all that stuff about evil witches and wolves eating Grandma in fairy tales.

Whether all this strangeness is part of an absurdist/surrealist view of the excuses people make for themselves, or is an excellent exposition of ordinary parents who’ve crossed over from tired to insane, I’m not sure. See, there’s an insomnia epidemic going on. In the story, I mean. Now, I’m familiar with new parents claiming sleep deprivation, and I’m not sure if this insomnia epidemic is real (in the context of this story), or if it’s just that these parents have gone around the bend because they haven’t been sleeping since their baby was born. And of course Jorie, the wife, may have additional problems with post-partum depression or psychosis.

Structurally, every section – most are short, one paragraph – starts with THEN. Time. Insomnia. Confusion. And where did we put the baby? A touch of creepy foreshadowing here and there, and we’re dreading the ending…

Like I said, it’s a weird story. It fits perfectly in this issue devoted to weird.

2 responses to “Kenneth Calhoun: “Then” from Tin House, Spring 2011, The Mysterious

  1. Pingback: PEN/O.Henry 2011: Kenneth Calhoun, “Nightblooming” from The Paris Review #189, Summer 2009 « A Just Recompense

  2. Pingback: BASS 2012: The Last Page | A Just Recompense

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