His Final Mother by Reynolds Price, 1990
The magic trick:
Using a dramatic moment of tragedy to demonstrate how a boy becomes a man
Yesterday’s SSMT feature, “The Cliff” by Charles Baxter, uses an extended metaphor to show a boy becoming a man. Today, the result is the same but the means are very different.
In “His Final Mother,” Crawford, our 12-year-old protagonist, watches his mother die one day, very suddenly. The ensuing scene is remarkable. We see Crawford and his dad walking in the woods. The father responds to the tragedy by devolving into a kind of monster. There is even a real sense that he might kill the boy. Crawford, meanwhile, appears to be handling the entire situation with a certain calm. He is brave and ready for the future, even as he is sad.
In short, while the father falls back boyish and broken, Crawford is becoming a man, independent and strong. And that’s quite a trick on Price’s part.
The man’s big hands shot out and seized Crawford’s neck. The fingers were colder even than the boy, though he thought he recognized the scrape of his father’s thick palm.
Crawford said, “I’m still not strong as you.”
The man’s grip eased. Then suddenly he seemed to be gone, that strange and quick. Crawford waited for a clue and finally spoke as strong as he could, “Am I out here alone?” From what seemed a far distance the man said, “You always were.”
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