Last week I mentioned checking out The Best American Short Stories from the library and this weekend I decided to read a couple of the stories. I felt a bit like a rebel just opening the book and starting off somewhere other than the first page although I did read the intro by Salman Rushdie which touched upon what is an American story and how the stories in this collection were selected.
The first story I read was Man and Wife by Katie Chase. This is the author’s first story published (originally published in The Missouri Review) and it takes the reader to a nondescript town where young girls talk about Barbies and riding bikes, and where parents host dinner parties. Sounds like any other kind of town, right?
“They say every girl remembers that special day when everything starts to change. I was lying under the tree in my parents’ backyard, an oak old enough to give shade but too young to be climbed, when Dad’s car pulled into the garage. All afternoon I’d been riding bikes with Stacie, but we had a fight when she proposed we play in my basement – it was getting too hot out, but I was convinced she was only using me for my Barbies. This was eight years ago. I was nine and a half years old.”
Mary Ellen will soon find out that her parents have arranged for her marriage to the much older but wealthy, Mr. Middleton. They’ve signed a contract offering her hand in marriage and not only will Mr. Middleton take care of Mary Ellen but he’ll also be taking care of her parents when they get older.
The summer months will now be used to train Mary Ellen to be a perfect wife and to prepare her for the Fall when she go to Mr. Middleton’s home. There will be no more school and probably no more Barbies but her parents got her a very good contract for very little in return so everyone is happy.
What makes this story interesting to me is that everything seems so normal but as a reader I’m wondering when is this taking place, what year? Or is this really a cult or a religious group? There is no mention of any of that, but the practice of child brides is what it is. Mary Ellen is a wonderful character because although she will do what is asked of her, she displays small acts of defiance. A very interesting story indeed.
I’ll keep you posted on the other stories. But does anyone regularly read The Missouri Review? Or, is there another literary magazine you turn to for your short stories? Let me know if you’ve got any you recommend.