Travis, B. by Maile Meloy, 2002
The magic trick:
Highlighting the geography of Montana to make its distances and empty spaces a crucial part of the melancholy loneliness that hovers over the story
The man at the center of this story is lonely. He feels like he is a disappointment to his family. He is insecure about his misshaped hip. He has virtually zero experience in romance.
But this is not a story about loneliness in New York or Los Angeles. Our protagonist is lonely in Montana. That is a very specific thing, and Meloy does a remarkable job of making that clear.
We feel Montana’s vast empty spaces in this story. Beth’s drive gets mentioned several times. We get a lot of the geographic information thrown at us – the cities and towns, the hours of driving required in between, the black ice, the mountains.
The setting doesn’t supersede the protagonist’s plight, but rather casts his loneliness in a particular Montana-hued light. And that’s quite a trick on Meloy’s part.
“No, it’s not,” she said. “It’s a happy story. I’m a lawyer, see, with a wonderful job driving to fucking Glendive every fifteen minutes until I lose my mind.” She put down her burger and pressed the backs of her hands into her eyes. Her fingers were greasy and one had ketchup on it. She took her hands away from her face and looked at her watch. “It’s ten o’clock,” she said. “I won’t get home before seven-thirty in the morning. There are deer on the road, and there’s black ice outside of Three Forks along the river. If I make it past there, I get to take a shower and go to work at eight, and do all the crap no one else wants to do. Then learn more school law tomorrow night, then leave work the next day before lunch and drive back here with my eyes twitching. It’s better than a hospital laundry, maybe, but it’s not a whole fucking lot better.”
“I’m from near Three Forks,” he said.
“So you know the ice.”
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