‘Reunion’ by Julie Schumacher

Reunion by Julie Schumacher, 1982

The magic trick:

Adding an amazing amount of new potential layers to the story with a surprise final paragraph

“Reunion” falls into that special genre of short story written by a prodigy. Schumacher wrote this as an undergrad at Oberlin College, and it was featured in the 1983 Best American Short Stories before she was 25.

Must be nice.

The story truly is exceptional. She’s doing things here structurally that you’d be impressed by from a writer with 40 years’ experience.

It seems to be one thing – a fairly simple, surface-level portrait of the narrator’s mother. And it’s sweet and interesting as such, if nothing particularly amazing. The last page changes that impression completely, forcing the reader to reassess previous surfaces. What you find is an array of symbols and callbacks that may just make you cry.

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

The selection:

It was the first time that any woman in the family had gone into a hospital. My cousins wouldn’t even go there to give birth for fear people would suspect them of going for something else. Naturally my mother was questioned, cajoled and warned against the dangers of lost reputation, but she went anyway, taking the largest of the reunion photographs in her suitcase. It was a newspaper clipping of her great-grandmother’s sisters seated around a silver trophy bearing the slogan of the American Longevity Association. Their names were listed in order of age in the caption.

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