‘Donna’ by Michaella Thornton

Donna by Michaella Thornton, 2015

The magic trick:

Creating the illusion of sympathy from a child through an adult narrator looking back on the stepmother of her childhood

We’re off to Missouri this week.

The thing about highlighting stories from a different state each week is that you actually have to find the stories. And some states are more difficult than others. Missouri for some reason gave me fits. The stories didn’t show up organically in my regular reading, and I struggled to find any famous Missouri authors. So here we are. I started digging and came across this gem. What a find. I really, really like this story.

The story is about Donna, the narrator’s stepmother. The narrator is older now, looking back on a time when she was young. And because she’s reflecting on someone who was an authority figure of sorts, there is an air of generosity about the whole thing. But because you can picture the narrator as a kid, the generosity tinges the character portrait of Donna with sadness. It’s as if the woman’s plight is so pathetic, even a child condescends to recognize her struggle. Again, we know the narrator is an adult now looking backwards. The generosity is retrospective. But the effect is of a child feeling sorry for an adult.

And that’s quite a trick on Thornton’s part.

The selection:

Poor Donna: she married into an instant family the day she married Dad, me, and a dog named Pancake. Unlike the dog, Donna refused to be stepped on. She wore a puffy white confection and a blue garter belt in retaliation. Her dress was new. She had bought it on sale at a Kansas City department store.

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