Death Of A Right Fielder by Stuart Dybek, 1990
The magic trick:
Creating symbolism by writing the surreal realistically
Nothing to see here. Just a bunch of kids who realize they haven’t seen the rightfielder in awhile, and, upon looking for him, realize that he’s dead lying in the outfield. They aren’t particularly surprised. They aren’t particularly scared. They just put together a little makeshift burial and move on.
Dybek writes the entire story in matter-of-fact, realistic terms. As a result, the reader is pushed to take the dead rightfielder as a symbol. I mean, I suppose it could be taken very literally, but that’s pretty morbid and just kind of strange. No, it’s a symbol, very clearly, and once we realize that we can browse back through the story and pick up different clues, different nuances. The innocence of childhood is over, done in violently by gang shootings or more bureaucratically by the constraints of career. Either way, the joy of playing baseball as a kid doesn’t last. And that’s quite a trick on Dybek’s part.
In the bluish squint of those lights, he didn’t look like someone we’d once known – nothing looked quite right – and we hurriedly scratched a shallow grave, covered him over, and stamped it down as much as possible so that the next right fielder, whoever he’d be, wouldn’t trip.