The Midnight Zone by Lauren Groff, 2016
The magic trick:
Leaving the character unredeemed but also not necessarily in need of redemption
So, this one posted yesterday by mistake. I had a old draft lined up that was incredibly negative and, frankly, just mean. I don’t even know what I was talking about. The narrator is self-absorbed? This story simply isn’t very good?
Classic SSMT analysis right there. All idiocy.
Often, I have these posts scheduled a couple years in advance at this point. Which is great. It means I can step away from the blog for months at a time, and it just runs itself. But it also means that occasionally, as in the case of “The Midnight Zone,” my initial read gets superseded by a new (let’s just call it improved) opinion.
We read this story in a short story club at my office last fall, and I loved it. I really don’t know what I was thinking in my original angry magic trick post.
One of my (many) complaints was that the narrator meets the crisis and then fails to take care of anything. So I will complete my 180-degree turn here by submitting that point as the magic trick in the story. It’s not a weakness. It’s the coolest freaking part of the story!
There is no clean moral. The mother is no cut-and-dry character. She’s loving and strong in some ways. And she’s (yes) self-absorbed and weak in others. She’s independent sometimes. And completely dependent in others.
Most stories don’t have the courage to show that conundrum without a clean conclusion. Most stories don’t have the clarity to leave things such a mess. And that’s quite a trick on Groff’s part.
It was only then, when the night entered, that I understood the depth of time we had yet to face. I had the boys bring me the lanterns, then a can opener and the tuna and the beans, which I opened slowly, because it is not easy, supine, and we made a game out of eating, though the thought of eating anything gave me chills. The older boy brought over Mason jars of milk. I let my children finish the entire half gallon of ice cream, which was my husband’s, his one daily reward for being kind and good, but by this point the man deserved our disloyalty, because he was not there.
It had started raining, at first a gentle thrumming on the metal roof.
I tried to tell my children a cautionary tale about a little girl who fell into a well and had to wait a week until firefighters could figure out a way to rescue her, something that maybe actually took place back in the dimness of my childhood, but the story was either too abstract for them or I wasn’t making much sense, and they didn’t seem to grasp my need for them to stay in the cabin, to not go anywhere, if the very worst happened, the unthinkable that I was skirting, like a pit that opened just in front of each sentence I was about to utter. They kept asking me if the girl got lots of toys when she made it out of the well. This was so against my point that I said, out of spite, Unfortunately, no, she did not.
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