‘I Get By’ by Mary Robison

I Get By by Mary Robison, 1986

The magic trick:

Building on the narrator’s guarded emotional state to create a feeling of numbness around the entire story

Mary Robison takes us to the wintery world of suburban Connecticut today, and this one is subtle to the point of being almost lifeless. The story begins in the immediate aftermath of tragedy. Our narrator, mother of three, has lost her husband suddenly to a plane crash. The text then consists of vignettes wherein we see this family going through the motions of semi-regular life as they adjust to this awful new normal. The narrator says very little about how she feels about things. She is just, as the title indicates, getting by. Apparently, the woman who replaces the dead husband as a teacher at the elementary school is supposed to be a key character? The story’s conclusion indicates that she served as an important distraction for the narrator. I think I missed that connection, though. It’s never drawn out all that much. The story takes its narrator’s approach to adjustment – numbness.

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

The selection:

March came. We’d get a couple more snowstorms in Old Hadham, I suspected. Spring wouldn’t arrive in any decided way for weeks and weeks. But I was seeing new grass and there was dry pavement. April would be breathtaking along our road. There’d be arbutus, hepaticas, downy yellow violets. In the living room, Rennie had sections of the local evening newspaper strewn around. The baby was in the playpen, wadding and tearing a Super Duper coupon page.

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