‘So Peaceful In The Country’ by Carl Ruthven Offord

So Peaceful In The Country by Carl Ruthven Offord, 1945

The magic trick:

Playing on the racial and sexual history of the United States to inform the ambiguity of Mr. Christian’s intentions

I wonder how this story reads if totally divorced from the racial history of the United States, particularly the black-and-white sexual politics of slavery.

There is so very much sexual tension – if not an expectation of violence – built into the reading experience when you have even a passing knowledge of such history. It’s really a brilliant story in that way. The text itself never makes plain whether Mr. Christian is a kind-hearted man or a bad-intentioned creep. History tells us it’s certainly the latter, but, again, that depends on what history you bring to the reading.

Even the money at the end – generosity or something more akin to paying a prostitute? The story forces the reader to confront their own feelings about race and sex and history. And that’s quite a trick on Offord’s part.

The selection:

She stopped splashing and looked at him. He was laughing.

“Don’t let me stop you. You’re doing very well.”

Self-conscious, she stood still in the water up to her waist.

“I think your stroke is really good,” he said. “But your legs sink.”

She liked what he said about her stroke. Jim had been working on her stroke for two summers in the public swimming pool. Suddenly Mr. Christian dived from the rowboat and swam to her.

“This is how you should kick.” He swam for her to see, his strong legs working up, down, up, down, like a pair of scissors. “Now try it.”

She stood still.

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