Al Rasmussen had wintered in Eden, we thought. We started to feel a little like suckers.
Though I never heard of her until recently, this is the third Caitlin Horrocks story I’ve read in the past few months: “Sun City” and “Steal Small” were the others, both excellent. This is the first one with a touch of goofiness. I live for goofiness.
Al Rasmussen’s had a tough time. His wife was killed by a kid driving drunk. The economy’s terrible. The town is pretty much withering. So he decides to sleep through the winter. He calls the town – the very small town of Bounty – to his house to explain what he and his kids are going to do. They think of various objections, but he’s considered everything. They’re going to hibernate through January and February. See you in March.
It works out so well (he has some wonderful dreams and misses a number of unfortunate events), other people think about doing the same thing. Over the years, more and more people join in. A lot of it is economic: far lower heating bills and food costs, no gas to buy. And if they hibernate the whole winter, no Christmas presents. But it’s more than that. Winter is not kind (presumably they’re in North Dakota or thereabouts). And the dreams… who wouldn’t rather dream than shovel snow? One chubby teen went to sleep in braces and woke slender and straight-toothed. “How easily, they thought, so much of the hard work of growing up had happened while they were asleep, while no one could make fun of them for it.”
Pretty soon most of the town is sleeping; they start sleeping in communal groups, in fact, to reduce heating costs even further. The librarian stays up to light the Christ Candle in the Lutheran Church on Christmas eve, and… well, you’ll have to read the story to see what happens to her. It’s available for Kindle (which I don’t really understand, so you’ll have to go find it yourself) and if you’re really careful and/or lucky, you might find it on GoogleBooks.
Eventually the media finds out about it, and lots of fuss gets made, which is pretty hilarious, all the more so because it’s so exactly what would happen. That’s why it’s so great a story: except for the idea that people can sleep for two or four or six months, everything in this story is perfectly logical. And, to rural people in the northern reaches, maybe not such a bad idea. In fact, according to the Contributor Notes, Horrocks got the idea of the story from an article “about historical sleep patterns, including alleged winter hibernation” and found herself curious, and a little jealous. As another Maine winter approaches, I can understand that.
It’s written in first person plural, and I’m pretty proud of myself that I realized that (thanks to reading a lot of Seth Fried stories lately that have sensitised me to it). The whole town is the “we” with various individuals in the spotlight throughout. Perfect use for it, too. The town is the protagonist, a town that is perhaps dying. Is the sleep curative, or the final descent? Are they adapting, or giving up? That seems to me the central question, and I still can’t decide. But maybe that’s because I’m dealing with some loss of my own, the economy’s terrible, and winter is coming.