I Walk Between The Raindrops by T. Coraghessan Boyle, 2018
The magic trick:
Giving us a narrator who thinks he’s being grateful but in fact is really smug and condescending
Today’s story is set among the motels, hole-in-the-wall bars, and antique stores of Kingman, Arizona.
It’s a great example of a narrator with negative characteristics. I think it’s a reader’s default position to sympathize with a narrator, right? Maybe we even assume that our narrator is the hero. But in this story our narrator begins to show himself early on to be a little bit condescending, a little bit entitled, a little bit full of himself, and those characteristics only show themselves more and more as the story goes on.
The key thing is that he’s not the villain that within this plot and also just generally not a terrible person. It’s not immediately clear that this is somebody that you’re going to root against in the story. It’s never too obvious. But by the end of the text, you’re pretty sure this guy is not someone you want to hang out with anymore. Perhaps you even see yourself a little bit in his more grating characteristics, and you start to think, “Gosh, maybe people wouldn’t want to hang out with me either.” It really gets to that level.
The great irony of the character of course is that he thinks the entire story is about his gratitude. He is able to duck and dodge the heartache amid the chaos around him. But gratitude has never sounded so smug.
And that’s quite a trick on Boyle’s part.
When, a few days later, the newspaper showed pictures of the victims, I recognized a couple of them, people I’d said hello and goodbye to a few times over the years—casual acquaintances—but no one whose name came readily to my lips. There was the tall, jaunty old man with the booming voice who always had a story to tell, the woman who owned the beauty salon, and another, a cool blonde I could picture at the bar in our favorite restaurant, always in heels and always standing, whether there was a stool available or not, almost as if it were a duty. She drank Martinis. Every so often she’d abandon her post to go outside and lean against the wall with the valets and have a smoke. Her posture—I could reconstruct it just from seeing her face in the slightly blurry obituary photo—was perfect, and even in her fifties she was slim, with an expressive figure. Nola didn’t remember her—or any of them.
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