Pushcart 2012: Tim O’Sullivan, “Father Olufemi” from A Public Space #10

"Snow Storm People" by Oliver Fluck, October 2011

"Snow Storm People" by Oliver Fluck, October 2011

The Catholic Diocese of Toledo had paid for his flight from Abuja to Boston, his surgery, the cost of his monthlong convalescence, the walker, and the bus ticket to Halfestus, Ohio, where he’d agreed to preside for three years over the parish of a Father Krinkle. It was probably unhealthy to imagine what his welcomers would think. He was replacing a priest accused of child molestation. He was as dark as could be and, from the photos he’d found on the Internet, the people of Halfestus wre as white as could be. He’d arrive a cripple.
At least this last bit would improve. He would heal….It would take months, but one day he’d stand at the pulpit and raise his arms – a man upright, his limbs deliriously functional – and proclaim, “This is the day of the Lord.”
But who was this man, proclaiming? He’d never been this man. He’d never been as helpless as he was now, being carted across a foreign continent to a foreign town.

I’m not sure how a story with a setting and situation as rich and intriguing as that could manage to be tedious reading with little payoff. I’m sure there was a payoff – I’m positive – but I missed it. There’s something about the priest taking this bus ride, the people he goes through – the old priest who accompanies him to the bus station in Boston, the driver who is solicitous at first but not so much by the end, the passenger who just got out of prison, the little boy who’s never seen a Bible before, the dream/memory of Mrs. Ogunye’s party, the girl at the bus station who leads him off through the snow into nowhere – there’s something there. There has to be. There’s just too much cool stuff going on, and I wonder what’s wrong with me that it seemed, to me, to add up to nothing but a collection of threads with no warp or weft. As always, I take full blame for my inadequate reading, and welcome direction.

It’s interesting this is the second story I’ve read this week in which disabled limbs feature prominently. But that’s merely coincidence.

I do like the ending, though I wish I could find a way to comprehend it. Usually, with a story that eludes me, yet that dangles something profound just out of my reach, I spend a lot of time, perhaps unfruitfully, pondering, considering. In this case, I’m, well, just not that interested. And that strikes me as bizarre, since, to read how I’ve described it above, it’s fascinating.

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4 responses to “Pushcart 2012: Tim O’Sullivan, “Father Olufemi” from A Public Space #10

  1. Don’t be so sure that there’s a payoff; I had the same reaction as you (http://bit.ly/HocBAJ), and that was without the additional expectations of knowing that this was a Pushcart winner. I suppose if you want to read into it, if you want to insist that there’s a deeper meaning to these fragments, you can talk about how the Father feels disconnected from God, and see how this inner disconnection is reflected in his outer disconnection to those around him, these scenes that are just fragments themselves, his inability to talk to others, even for assistance. And you can see, at the end, how he has perhaps transcended this pain — worn it down, learned to live with it — to become a stronger man, the sort who can trudge through the dark, early morning snow, pursuing an uncaring woman (as before he fled from a perhaps too-caring nurse) to show that he has the power to lead this church, to, one day perhaps, become the first black Pope.

    But this seems *very* tenuous, and even if this is what O’Sullivan was going for, he’s still overwritten his story with far too many details and flourishes for secondary characters, things that distract — sometimes in the middle of paragraphs — from the central conceit that he should be (if not building toward, then) supporting with these ancillary events.

  2. Pingback: Pushcart 2012: Finis « A Just Recompense

  3. Pingback: Pushcart 2013: Erin McGraw, “Punchline” from The Kenyon Review, Fall 2011 | A Just Recompense

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