Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Assimilate, Godoy Lives and Nelson' s Run

Short story is considered to be one of the most brutally difficult styles of writing, due to the concise nature and the absolute lack of room for extraneous information. The pieces in Humor Me’s fiction section rise to the challenge, dealing with several fairly interesting themes, among them love and marriage, either across the borders of race or nations. Alexie’s piece, Assimilation, is one of the longer ones in the section, using the emotional conflict between the married interracial couple of Mary Lynn and Jeremiah. The story weaves through and between their two psychologies and the events that occur over a short, 3-5 hour time-frame, beginning with Mary Lynn’s first shot at infidelity as a cure for her growing dissatisfaction. The writing, a masterful demonstration of short story form, reveals details when it wants to across its length, rather than overloading the story at one end or the other. It ends in not only a cathartic moment of realization for both of the central protagonists, but a chilling representation of what could become of the two were they to leave their marriage, as an unnamed jumper and her intrepid rescuer freeze to death in the water below a traffic-jammed bridge.
Other stories do not have such moments in their handling of the theme of fidelity and marriage. A comparable story, Godoy Lives, places the theme of love and marriage across the strain of nations rather than that of race. The central character of Juan takes up the green card of a dead man, Manuel Godoy, who was on his way to join his family in America. He is unexpectedly met at the border, and adopts not only the man’s name, but his life at the same time. The man proves to be better off than he had ever expected, and Juan, by the story’s end has not only cheated on his wife, but has actually completely disavowed her, adopting the identity of Manuel completely and utterly. A third example of the same themes of love and marriage is Nelson’s Run. This particular theme does not enter the story strongly until the portion where Nelson’s father has come into the story as more than a person in a photograph, at which point he begins to influence Nelson’s mentality in every possible way, imparting upon him a strong belief in Darwinism, racial superiority, and a patriarchal viewpoint that would have to stretch to be more snide in its treatment of women. By the end of the story, the main character has not only slept with his father’s mistress, multiple times, but then abandons her to the criminal justice system when she is jailed for having killed her father in self-defense, turning human relations into a game of costs-versus-benefits.

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