I’m not a JCO fan, ordinarily, but in my estimation this is the best story of the year so far.
Lisette Mulvey is in Middle School and her mother may or may not be a blackjack dealer in Atlantic City. Lisette isn’t sure because her mother isn’t terribly reliable. In fact, she’s been gone since sometime the previous week, and Lisette, who is recovering from eye surgery, isn’t doing a great job of taking care of herself—not bathing, she lost the prescription for medication she needs for her eye, she’s hanging out with older boys who give her beer. And then the cops arrive at her classroom and take her away. Lisette at first thinks it’s the beer she drank or the lipsticks she pocketed, but then it is gradually explained by the gentle policewoman that she’s being taken to the morgue to identify a body.
What is brilliant about this story—other than the voice, I mean, which is pitch perfect, it seems to me—is the way the tension is built and ratcheted up and squeezed tighter and tighter as the story progresses. It takes awhile to know that Lisette’s mother is away, and then we learn that there’s a problem with Lisette’s father, and then we learn that the father caused the injury to the eye, and then we learn that the mother has disappeared before and isn’t such a great mother even when she’s around, and then . . . and it goes on building right to the end.
March 29, 2010: “I.D.” by Joyce Carol Oates