‘Wild Plums’ by Grace Stone Coates

Coates, Grace Stone 1929

Wild Plums by Grace Stone Coates, 1929

The magic trick:

Putting the reader in the same position as the narrator, trying to figure out what is right and wrong

Very much reminiscent of those early Alice Munro with the child’s point of view – granted, it precedes those by three decades. “Wild Plums,” like many of those Munro stories, deals with a child trying to learn right and wrong, and not always getting the best advice from her parents. This story puts the reader in the middle of that confusing journey from the opening paragraphs. The narrator tells us that her father felt wild plums were small and inferior. Then we learn that her parents are surprised that the Sunday School teachers are going with Mrs. Slump to go plumming.

The narrator says, “I knew it was not nice to go plumming, but I didn’t know why.” Well, the reader is in the same boat. What’s wrong with Mrs. Slump? What’s wrong with wild plums? Immediately, we’re connected with the narrator through the story on the quest to find out – which of course turns into a complicated, damning portrait of the parents. And that’s quite a trick on Coates’s part.

The selection:

When father talked to people he didn’t like he sorted his words, and used only the smooth, best ones. Mother explained to me it was because he had spoken only German when he was little.

After the women had gone mother and father quarreled. They spoke low so I would not hear them. Just before mother sent me out to play she said that even wild plums might give savor to the dry bread of monotony.

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