The Point by Charles D’Ambrosio, 1990
The magic trick:
Using the inclusion of a letter near the end of the text to greatly expand the meanings and emotional depth of the story
Is this the best story of the 90s? I’m in no position to say, given my still-limited reading, but I’d have to guess it ranks high on the list.
Of course, just because it was published in 1990, does it even merit mention on such a list? It’s certainly not of the 90s. It’s more about the 70s. Or, to be more precise, it’s more about how Vietnam and the 70s wound up informing the bizarre half-paranoid, half-blissfully-distracted 80s. Regardless of how you measure it, there is no denying this story’s quality. It’s one of the best I’ve read, I’ll say that much.
The story really is two-toned. There is the section about Kurt escorting Mrs. Gurney home; there is the section that relays the war letter of Kurt’s late father.
There is tragi-comedy; there is tragi-tragedy.
There is the plight of the community; there is the plight of Kurt.
The key is the letter.
Had the story ended with Kurt returning home after his walk with Mrs. Gurney, it would be poignant, to be sure. We’d still see the effects on the Point. We’d still see the 13-year-old Kurt acting as the adult far ahead of his time.
And we’d still know about the death of Kurt’s father. But we wouldn’t get the glimpse of his life. By including the letter, we are able to better feel Kurt’s loss. We’re able to better connect Kurt’s absurd role as drunk-medic with his father’s role as a war medic in Vietnam. That’s crucial, because not only does it make more powerful the father-son bond, it also further connects the decades and generations.
The story isn’t Kurt’s only. It’s for a generation still recovering from the war’s fallout.
And that’s quite a trick on D’Ambrosio’s part.
“Do you know how suddenly life can turn?” Mrs. Gurney asked. “How bad it can get?”
At first I didn’t say anything. This kind of conversation didn’t lead anywhere. Mrs. Gurney was drunk and belligerent. She was looking for an enemy. “We need to get you home, Mrs. Gurney,” I said. “That’s my only concern.”
“Your only concern,” Mrs. Gurney said, imitating me again. “Lucky you.”
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