‘The Last Thing We Need’ by Claire Vaye Watkins

The Last Thing We Need by Claire Vaye Watkins, 2010

The magic trick:

Using a series of letters to both introduce and explain a mysterious premise

I had to get right back to Watkins for a second story this week, as I’m not sure anyone – at least recently – has done a better job of bringing a specific place to life through short stories than what she has done for Nevada.

This one takes the form of a series of letters written by a man after he comes across the aftermath of a car wreck. He’s searched the car, found the driver’s address and some things left behind in the empty car. So now he’s writing letters to learn more.

Why is he so fascinated by this particular accident?

What compels him to start sharing his own personal information to this stranger?

The story does an excellent – and distressing – job of answering these questions in a way that never feels forced.

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

The selection:

PS I left most of the debris in the desert, save for the medications, pictures and letters from M. I also took the plastic grocery bags, which I untangled from the bushes and recycled on my way through Reno. It didn’t feel right to just leave them out there.

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