All The Way In Flagstaff, Arizona by Richard Bausch, 1983
The magic trick:
Portraying alcoholism as disease and not as choice
Walter acts badly in this story. Very badly. He has the makings of a good life – wife, kids, a social life where the biggest nuisance is a cookout with friends. But he can’t handle it. He can’t enjoy it. He can’t hold onto it. He’s too busy being drunk.
It’s easy for the reader to judge him for this. It’s easy to get angry with him. But cannily, the story shows us the fallout along the way. We see Walter two years later in Arizona. He’s a broken man.
Suddenly that anger softens to sympathy. You read on through the story getting increasingly frustrated with Walter. But it’s only because you know how this ends and you wish he could take a different path.
In that way, the alcoholism the story portrays feels more like a disease than a choice.
And that’s quite a trick on Bausch’s part.
“Daddy’s funny,” Carol says.
“When I’m the first lady priest and married Pope, I’ll buy a wolverine and keep it as a pet,” Susan says.
“Have mercy on us,” says William.
“All right,” Walter says, “let’s drop it, please, William. No more prayers, please. We’re all right. God will forgive us, I’m sure, if we all just shut the fuck up for a while.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” he says.
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