Two short pieces in the current “American Scholar.” Unfortunately, neither quite up to par.
Charles Baxter’s “The Old Murderer.” Funny little piece, but ultimately a throw-away. Recovering alcoholic Eric Ellickson has a new neighbor, Macfadden Eward, who happens to be a murderer (he served 25 years in prison for shooting his cheating wife and is now out on parole). Though Ellickson is reluctant at first to do the neighborly thing and introduce himself, the two men eventually become sort of friends. They have much in common. Both are without family: Mac had of course made a widower of himself; Ellickson’s wife had left with children after Ellickson hit their ten-year-old Alex during a drunken rage. Since then he’s been sober, though miserably so. Similarly, Mac is free, but his years in prison have made him crazy, leading him to find solace in imagining his basement as a spaceship whose four walls resemble the confinement of his prison cell. They both share the misery of withdrawal; it may be good for them, but boy is it the pits. In the end, as Ellickson feels unwell and starts to list the elements that comprise his whacked out life–his wife Laura is preggers; she won’t allow contact with their son, whom he misses terribly; his neighbor is a murderer and a whackadoo–his ex-doctor friend Lester, who examines him, lays it all out for him succinctly: The good news is he’s still alive, and the bad news is also that he’s still alive. …Mac and Ellickson make quite a bit of an odd couple. How they deal with their individual stupors and miseries is just the right blend of funny and pathetic (in the actual pathos sense). After sorta bonding by walking off a drugged-out Mac’s daze around the neighborhood (haha), old man Mac grudgingly appears at Ellickson’s doorstep, apple pie in hand, to sorta thank his new friend. A good, sad-funny scene. (Ellickson’s crying confession to Mac that follows, unfortunately, comes across a bit too forced). I do like this piece; it’s just that ultimately it’s not something I’ll remember in, say, three months’ time.
Roxana Robinson’s “Honey.” The narrator recalls having accidentally hit a fawn on the road about a decade ago on the way to celebrate her (his? I’ll asume “her”) father’s birthday. The fawn had followed its mother onto the road when the narrator’s speeding car slammed into it, injuring and causing it pain for the rest of its perhaps shortened life. It’s a devastating experience for the unknowing victimizer, who becomes haunted by the unmeant harm. The story ends rather abruptly with the narrator apparently trying to connect this event to her father’s and dog’s (who was her passenger at the time of the incident) deaths ten years later (that is, the present). I’m sure there’s some resonant connection intended, but the unappealing components of the story don’t compel me to even attempt to understand that connection.