‘River Of Names’ by Dorothy Allison

River Of Names by Dorothy Allison, 1988

The magic trick:

Loss so deep it almost becomes absurd

“River Of Names” employs a method of surrealism that recalls the Jeffrey Eugenides novel The Virgin Suicides. The list of tragedies becomes so great that the reader rather than feeling them on a normal human level begins to suspect that perhaps this isn’t meant to take literally. Perhaps this laundry list of loss is a symbol for something greater. That’s an interesting journey for the reader to take, and leaves a heavy set of thoughts after the story ends.

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

The selection:

Butch and I stood out then – I because I was so dark and fast, and he because of that big head and the crazy things he did. Butch used to climb on the back of my Uncle Lucius’s truck, open the gas tank and hang his head over, breathe deeply, strangle, gag, vomit, and breathe again. It went so deep, it tingled in your toes. I climbed up after him and tried it myself, but I was too young to hang on long, and I fell heavily to the ground, dizzy and giggling. Butch could hang on, put his hand down into the tank and pull up a cupped palm of gas, breathe deep and laugh. He would climb down roughly, swinging down from the door handle, laughing, staggering, and stinking of gasoline. Someone caught him at it. Someone threw a match. “I’ll teach you.”

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