‘August Evening’ by Joyce Carol Oates

August Evening by Joyce Carol Oates, 1992

The magic trick:

Turning a characteristic that could be seen as a flaw or a punchline and making it the key to an endearing connection

Great little story here. We’ve got two characters who very clearly are trying to turn back the clock. We meet our male character driving what he surely considers to be a tough, cool, hip car. I believe it’s a Mercury Cougar with a tape deck. And then we meet a woman at the store who is wearing tight shorts, kind of a skimpy youthful outfit, as it’s described. Both of these characters, we also learn, are older than their fashions might indicate. They are decades beyond school, which is when they knew each other way back when.

We see them both as characters defined by the fact that they want to pretend that they’re still young. So it’s endearing when they meet and look at each other and consider each other and then imagine each other in exactly the way that they’re hoping to be seen. It might be a brief moment of fantasy, but it’s exactly what they need. And that’s quite a trick on Oates’s part.

The selection:

He drives a new model, metallic blue Cougar with all the accessories, including air conditioning and a tape deck and beige kidskin interior, plus some special things of his own.

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