Rollingwood by Ben Marcus, 2011
The magic trick:
Highlighting the character’s emotional collapse by having him pine for his childhood home
Day three of our Ben Marcus Week on the site, and we have a third straight middle-aged male protagonist in self-imposed agony. I guess you could accuse Marcus of being too one-note, but I really like it. It takes more than one story to explore the anxiety, paranoia, and general malaise caused by life as a privileged white man prone to overthinking and underachievement.
What’s the first thing that privileged man turns to when times get tough? Well, I suppose there are a lot of answers there – many of them comical. But the one I’m referring to is the reset button. They long for childhood, some kind of imagined version of it, and the time before they screwed everything up. In the case of this story, that imagined ideal comes in the form of the Rollingwood neighborhood. So close to where our protagonist still lives; and yet so far away. And that’s quite a trick on Marcus’s part.
It’s a bright, clear day, and Mather can see all the way down to Rollingwood, the neighborhood where he grew up. He can’t see his old house, but he can see the street where it would be, behind a hooked cul-de-sac of narrow homes. His old elementary school’s clock tower rises high out of the trees. The clock stopped at three-fifteen a long time ago, and unless you stand beneath the tower you’d think the little hand had fallen off, because it’s perfectly hidden beneath the big hand.
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