Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Moonwalk" (1992)

Story by Susan Power not available online.

I thought this story by Susan Power had a lot of nice elements but somehow came out to less than the sum of them. Margaret Many Wounds is on her deathbed and her two daughters, Evie and Lydia, are attending her. Evie left the Indian reservation that is their home many years before this story and has traveled from Minneapolis to be with her (though it's never named, the reservation seems likely to be Pine Ridge). The story is mostly told from the point of view of Evie, who has always felt she is the least favorite of her mother. The father died five years earlier, at which time Lydia stopped speaking. All of this is taking place in July 1969, as astronauts reach the surface of the moon for the first time in history. It's a nice touch, at least in theory, but also seems like the last straw in terms of piling on, especially when Margaret's spirit, shortly after she dies in bed, appears on the moon on TV, dancing, and only her 5-year-old grandson notices. The story is strongest when it simply observes the deathwatch, the way that families squabble, laugh, and carry on the way they do as much when they're in crisis as not. The shadow of death passes over the living, but the living can't help being what they are. There was some sense of resolution, especially between Margaret and Evie, but too often this story goes vague when it most needs to be concrete and specific. So overall it doesn't work for me, but in its parts it comes so close. I wanted to know a lot more about the dynamics between these principals, the mother and her two daughters, but all we get are broad strokes. Evie's resentment and flight, Lydia's decision to be mute, and especially who and what Margaret was to them. We get some sense but it often feels familiar and almost trite, or predictable. The spirit dance on the lunar surface is likely intended to remedy some of that. But that merely seems fanciful, the kind of thing even the best writers can only occasionally manage. Wish this were better—the death scene particularly offers many possibilities not lived up to here.

The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, ed. Tobias Wolff

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