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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why the woman screams: Ghosts and Empties

By chance (I guess) just finished reading (my first?) Lauren Groff story in the Best American Short Stories 2014 and the next day (yesterday) pick up current NYer and read another Groff story, Ghosts and Empties. It shares with the BASS selection its setting - central Florida in or near the University campus - and a (northerner's) fascination with the gothic architecture, the humidity, the rot and ruin, the scary wildlife (snakes and gators), the creepy mood. But the stories could hardly differ more in other respects: the BASS story telling the entire life of a Florida-raised intellectual and his difficult relationship with his domineering father, the NYer story a first-person story that reads much more like an essay (though I am sure it's not, that the narrator is not Groff but a fictional character) about a woman who regularly, almost obsessively, walks through her neighborhood, often at night, in a turnaround section of Gainesville, apparently quite dangerous at one time but now in the throes of revival. Like a spirit (the ghosts of the title?) she observes without being seen - passing runners and pedestrians, snatches of conversation overheard, dumb-shows observed through lighted windows. The story could, in a sense, be nothing but mood and observation, except that Groff artfully conceals a few clues that give the story richness and dimension: The narrator scoffs at those who consider her neighborhood unsafe, hinting that they're racially biased, and tells us it's perfectly safe - except that a jogger was raped a month back and except for the shooting. Hm. Is she willfully obtuse, or a risk-taker, or even seeking trouble w/out knowing it? She tells us, also, that one night she came home and looked at her husband's laptop and saw something she shouldn't have seen - never tells us what, exactly - an email? a photo? - and then she spends the night walking, returns at dawn. What's that about? What's his reaction? Our sense is she keeps all of this within - or without (the empties?). The story opens with the odd phrase that she is a woman who screams, so she's taken up walking instead of screaming. She never does scream, in this story - but, again, what's that about? Something to do with the laptop discovery? What can't she communicate her anger and anxiety to anyone - or even to us, as she writes this confessional? The story is a true mystery, maybe unsolvable, maybe too unresolved or opaque for some readers, but definitely worth looking at, thinking about - which is much more than I can say for most recent short fiction.

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