The Living by Mary Lavin, 1958
The magic trick:
Having the narrator run off with his friend from the wake in spite of his instinctive desire to stay and show kindness
Sometimes I’ll be reading one of these ancient, used library-book-sale story collections I have and I’ll be on a hundred-page losing streak that just makes me want to throw the whole giant book out the window. I was just about there with this particular “Stories Of The World” collection, but I figured, OK, I’ll give it one more story. And as if the editors heard my threats, the book responded with “The Living” by Mary Lavin, and nothing was thrown out of my window for the rest of the week. What a great little story.
The two boys at the center of the story are recognizable Dickensian types, and I don’t say that critically at all. They are types but also very well-drawn by Lavin. She drops little moments of truth all over the place, making the setting and characters exceptionally relatable.
The choicest little detail? The narrator follows the Mickster out of the wake, even as his heart clearly pulls him toward expressing sympathy for the grieving family. The narrator is obviously very sensitive, polite, kind, timid, etc. So it would be very easy for Lavin to demonstrate those qualities in him even further with a show of love for the dead man. But instead the narrator’s respect and allegiance to his resident bad influence, Mickster, wins out – which is a far more realistic outcome. And that’s quite a trick on Lavin’s part.
“Let me out of here!” he shouted, and pushing the woman and me to either side of him, he bolted for the door. The next minute he was flying across the lines.
And me after him. I told you I wanted to be polite to the people, the dead one included, but after all it was Mickster brought me, and it wouldn’t be very polite to him to stay on after him. Not that he showed any appreciation, but I thought maybe there was something wrong with him: he was very white in the face when I caught up with him.