‘Midair’ by Frank Conroy

Conroy, Frank 1984

Midair by Frank Conroy, 1984

The magic trick:

Use of present tense throughout

“Midair” is a very ambitious story, attempting to cover nearly 50 years in a man’s life. Controy does this by connecting various scenes from Sean’s life. It could easily play as a mere catalogue of memories or moments with decreasing returns holding the reader’s attention. Thankfully, it is nothing like that.

The trick is the use of the present tense throughout the entire story. The present tense verbs keep the vibe urgent and the reader in the moment. The repetition of the technique also locks each vignette with the other. So ironically enough, the present tense manages to individualize each section while also tying the set together as a story. And that’s quite a trick on Conroy’s part.

The selection:

Four years pass, and nothing happens. They both have a small monthly income from trust funds. She dabbles in an occasional project or temporary job but always retreats in mysterious frustration to the safety of their apartment. He writes a book, but it contains nothing since he knows very little about people, or himself. He remains a boy; the marriage that was to launch him into maturity serves instead to extend his boyhood. Husband and wife, they remain children. They live together in good will, oddly sealed off from one another and from the world. He dreams of people jumping out of windows, holding hands, in eerie accord. He has no idea what the dreams mean, or where they come from. She confesses that she has never believed in romantic love. They are both frightened of the outside, but they respond differently. She feels that what is out there is too dangerous to fool with. He feels that, however dangerous, it is only out there that strength can be found. In some vague, inchoate way, he knows he needs strength.

Privately, without telling him, she decides to have children. Philip is born. John is born. Sean is exultant.

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