‘Through The Safety Net’ by Charles Baxter

Through The Safety Net by Charles Baxter, 1985

The magic trick:

Combining high stakes with a bizarre comedic tone

We’re off to Michigan this week.

We’ve got a fortune-teller at the center of the story, which means we have an air of fatalism hanging over everything. Fatalism is scary. Always is. That feeling of inevitably and lack of control – even when the result is good – it’s terrifying. So we’ve got all that here. But the tone is absurd. Just read three sentences. It’s ridiculous. The fortune-teller is a caricature. So it’s hard to take anything too seriously. Yet it’s hard not to take the fatalism lightly. What do you do? And that’s quite a trick on Baxter’s part.

The selection:

“We need to make an appointment,” the psychic said. Then he blew his nose, making an odd sound, a long, wet snort.

“Excuse me,” he said. “It’s just a cold, one of those sinus colds that started as an ear cold. My nephews were in last week from Boston, and they brought these little coughs and sneezes with them. Cute but contagious. Well, what about this afternoon? It’s important.”

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