‘Red’ by Maile Meloy

Red by Maile Meloy, 2002

The magic trick:

Using a personal story to make a comment about much bigger issues

“Red” suffers in the comparison game – being only my second-favorite Maile Meloy story with “red” in the title (the great “Red Turning Green” wins the prize), and being only my 21st-favorite Meloy family work involving war (see The Decemberists’ entire catalog).

But, it’s still a moving story. It’s World War II. England is bearing the brunt. The United States is late to the game. Like a brash, idiot guy who thinks he knows everything but knows he doesn’t and is scared and covers up his fear by playing a heroic caricature, which he can’t really pull off but is too committed to the role to notice.

And that’s quite a trick on Meloy’s part.

The selection:

He’d meant to tell the girl about the movies he’d seen with the men in Ranger training, when they’d crawled around in the swamps without a girl in sight for days, then found themselves in a dark room with Lana Turner begging for love. He wanted to tell her about men’s desires – his own desire – and how little came in return for it sometimes. He thought, there in the rooming-house hallway, he had some important point to make, but now he didn’t know what the point was, and couldn’t find the words he meant to say.

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