Sun City by Caitlin Horrocks, 2011
The magic trick:
Making the setting so appealing that the narrative isn’t as crucial
Off to Arizona this week. I really, really enjoyed this story, and it’s stuck with me since reading it. And yet, I can’t say that I really cared about what actually happened in the story. How can both those sentences be true?
Well, it’s all about the setting and the main character. Rose presents a point of view that is very appealing. She appears to be immature in a lot of ways but is trying her best to do the right thing and do right by her family. Easy to sympathize with then, right? The setting, as the title implies, is Sun City in Arizona. The story does a great job of establishing its odd, dated vibe of retiree vacuum. The descriptions of Bev’s house are perfect. The sequence that finds Rose drunkenly walking the “giant suburban hamster maze” is great. The details – add lemon to make the tap water tolerable – are great.
So even as I don’t totally buy the climactic scene, I love the setting. Where the story is turns out to be more important than what happens in the story. And that’s quite a trick on Horrocks’s part.
The tick of the oven timer sounded hoarse as it slipped into its last minutes. Rose held the phone between her ear and her shoulder, and rummaged through the giveaways. At the bottom of a box there was a melamine plate with her own face on it, age eight. She was wearing a Care Bears sweatshirt and had fluffy bangs. She remembered her mom having the plates made, and her grandmother talking about how tacky it was that she’d worn a branded shirt for her school picture. “You should make those animals pay you,” she had said, “if you’re going to wear ’em across your chest.”
“You’re sure there’s nothing you want?” Rose asked. “There’s nothing I should be saving for you? Grandma had a lot of stuff.”
“For the millionth time, no. Let Bev take whatever she wants, take whatever you want, and get rid of everything else.”
“She doesn’t want anything.”
“She—never mind. I’ll call you later.”