A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 16 – Good People

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day sixteen – Good People, by David Foster Wallace

Read it online here:

Good People

Good People is the first published excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published incomplete novel The Pale King. Wallace hanged himself in 2008, at age 46. His father said that he had been suffering from depression for years and his medication had ceased to work. In the last few moments of his life, Wallace arranged his notes and computer files so his wife could find them.

His friend and editor Michael Pietsch took that material and molded it into its final published form. Despite being incomplete, the novel runs to over 500 pages.

I enjoyed this fragment (which, like a lot of David Foster Wallace’s novel chapters, stand fine on its own) because it contains a respect and fondness toward characters of faith – flawed as they are. The text is rough and rambling, reflecting the confusion in Lane’s mind.

The details – the uprooted tree, the man in the suit, the fishermen across the water – are carefully chosen and add layers of complexity to the simple story.

I wonder how much this piece is an homage to the Hemingway story Hills Like White Elephants? They are both stories about a couple making a choice where the word Abortion is never uttered.

A point not expressly made in the story, but one that comes to my mind is the one-way nature of time. Our past feels like a three dimensional cloud – full of inevitability, coincidences, and luck (good or bad). But the future feels like a set of steel rails where your only hope is to stay on the tracks, come hell or high water.

But neither did he ever open up and tell her straight out he did not love her. This might be his lie by omission. This might be the frozen resistance—were he to look right at her and tell her he didn’t, she would keep the appointment and go. He knew this. Something in him, though, some terrible weakness or lack of values, could not tell her. It felt like a muscle he did not have. He didn’t know why; he just could not do it, or even pray to do it. She believed he was good, serious in his values.