The Warm Fuzzies by Chris Adrian, 2010
The magic trick:
Putting a fairly normal protagonist in an fairly abnormal situation
When you buzz through as many short stories as I have for this blog in a relatively short period of time it’s sad to say but many of them can blur together in your memory. I don’t see “The Warm Fuzzies” falling prey to such a fate. One, it’s just a really good story. But more importantly, it has a setting and situation that stands it apart from most others. It is set in the home of a Christian family that has taken its children out of school, educated them at home and toured the region as a family Christian pop band. They take in foster children every so often and add them to the mix too. And if that weren’t enough to make the story memorable, Adrian explores the narrative with access to the mind of one of the younger daughters, Molly, as she wrestles with various adolescent crises.
Her crisis should be relatively normal. She is a tween trying to figure out what this growing up thing is all about. But because of the unique setting, her story is far more interesting than it would be in more quote-unquote normal circumstances. She has no voice in the story. She can’t express the angry, sarcastic thoughts in her head. She can’t express the doubts she has about her family’s music or, even more pressing, the church and religion.
I love that Adrian continues to toy with the expected coming-of-age tropes by introducing a potential love interest, or at least sexual awakening moment, in the form of Peabo. But that only adds another layer of confusion and pent-up communication for Molly. By story’s end, she is a mess of confusion and pre-teen angst. So as it turns out, by using an uncommon setting and situation, the story paints a more accurate picture of all-too-common adolescent mania than most “normal” stories manage. And that’s quite a trick on Adrian’s part.
“Pay attention, honey,” her mother said, because she was about to sew a spangle fish on backward to the sea-blue one-piece, zip-up-the-back jumpsuit. The girls had lost an argument with their father about how the fishes should be placed. “The fishes all swim the same way,” he said. “Up, toward Jesus.” It would have been pleasing, Molly thought, to have them going every which way.
“Sorry,” Molly said. Her mother handed her the seam ripper, and Molly began to undo the stitches, but she was imagining Peabo dancing in a suit of haphazardly swimming fish. Her mother was still staring at her when she handed back the seam ripper.
“Well?” her mother said.
“You’re the only one who hasn’t shared yet,” she said. “Cat got your tongue?”
“Well, what do you think about the latest addition to our family?”
Molly shrugged. “He seems nice,” she said.
Molly shrugged again.
“And she’s too fancy to share her opinions,” said Malinda. Their mother shushed her with a wave of her hand. “Mary,” she said. “Tell your sister what sort of family she’s living in.”
“A Christian Democratic Union,” Mary said, not looking up from her work.