Northeast Regional by Emma Cline, 2017
The magic trick:
Using a simple but effective structure of conflict/back story/conflict
Rich people acting selfishly. Rich people pay emotional costs for their selfish behavior. Still rich though.
It’s a plague on literature, this story arc. But alas, here we are again dealing with the same tired conflict in “Northeast Regional.”
Of course, it is well-written. That’s not the problem. It’s the whole rich people thing.
But I’ll get over that and say that I admire the structure.
You start with the father on the train on his way to the crisis. Then you jump back to a broader bit of backstory. You live with Richard and his girlfriend in their relationship for awhile. Get to know them, right up until the phone call that spawned the original train ride. Then you jump forward again to the crisis, the story’s focal point, the original train ride’s destination. Hopefully along the way you pick up enough clues from Richard’s backstory to provide a nuanced and enlightening context for the crisis. In this story, I think you do pick up enough clues. I just didn’t care.
Nevertheless, that’s quite a trick on Cline’s part.
He and Ana would have had a better time if they could’ve gone in the water. If it had been summer, they could’ve gone in the water, and that would’ve helped, but it wasn’t summer, so they didn’t. They sat with their backs against the base of a driftwood fence that marked someone’s beachfront rectangle. The sand was baked and pale, the sea dark. Ana held his hand loosely, her face shaded under a floppy white hat. Richard had the thought that she might have bought the hat specifically to wear this weekend, and the idea made him wince.
They had lunch in town, an endless lunch. Richard could not catch the waiter’s eye, and the plates lingered too long, the silverware dirtied and askew, and who wanted to stare at the soiled instruments of their feeding? The white wine tasted like granite. Ana stepped outside to call her husband. Richard could see her from the table, pacing in the courtyard. She touched her collar, turning away so her face was hidden.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.