Unjust by Richard Bausch, 2003
The magic trick:
Piling conflict upon conflict on the protagonist
Plot requires conflict. We know this. But, man, “Unjust” just seems, well, unjust. Poor Coleman has about seven major conflicts to resolve by the end of the story. It’s an interesting, if very depressing, picture of middle-aged life in suburbia.
It’s telling that the only conflict Coleman actually addresses head on is a bee hive inside the wall of his spare bedroom. Not very high stakes there. But it is so realistic. That’s what we do, right? Instead of noting the deteriorating communication within our families or rectifying trust issues in our relationships, we take action in the small and immediately tangible. We fix the bees.
Coleman fixes the bees (well, actually his wife calls an exterminator), but he lets all the important problems in his life build and build and build until the entire story explodes. And that’s quite a trick on Bausch’s part.
“So the room is out,” Coleman says.
“I’ll sleep on the floor,” says Lucky.
“I wish somebody’d told me,” Peg says. “It would’ve been nice if somebody had told me about it.”
“Maybe I can move some things out of the workroom,” Coleman says.
“I could go look for a motel or something,” says Lucky.