‘Reading The Paper’ by Ron Carlson


Reading The Paper by Ron Carlson, 1985

The magic trick:

Using exaggerated surrealism to make a point about the state of the world

Wow, imagine my surprise when I get ready to read this story, something by the same guy who wrote “The H Street Sledding Record” story, which is just about the nicest holiday story of all time.

Guess I better do my Ron Carlson research. The guy is versatile.

This story is not nice. Not even a little.

This story is making the point that the world is cold and cruel and awful. It does so through quirky surrealism. It would seem that the narrator is psychotic. He lists all the outrageously horrible things he has to do this morning. It’s not to be taken literally, mind you. It’s a device. (You might even call it a magic trick!) It’s exaggerated surrealism to make a point. And that’s quite a trick on Carlson’s part.

The selection:

All I want to do is read the paper, but I’ve got to do the wash first. There’s blood all over everything. Duke and the rest of the family except me and Timmy were killed last night by a drunk driver, run over in a movie line, and this blood is not easy to get out. Most of the fabrics are easy to clean, however, so I don’t even bother reading the fine print on the Cheer box. They make this soap work in all conditions anymore. Then I get Timmy up and ready for school. He eats two Hostess doughnuts and before he’s even down the street and I’ve picked up the paper, I can hear him screaming down there. Somebody’s dragging him into a late model Datsun, light brown, the kind of truck Duke, bless his soul, always thought was silly.

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