Here’s another story that’s only available to subscribers. Next week is the same. It looks like The New Yorker is pulling the plug on free fiction. (My comments are late because my issue still hasn’t arrived and I really didn’t want to log onto the eNewYorker site to read it that way; now I have no choice.)
So if you don’t have access to this story, that’s a shame. It’s excellent, mostly because of the voice of Martin, the first person narrator. Martin is a loser and probably disturbed. His mother, with whom he lives, thinks he has post-traumatic stress disorder, but there are no mentions of deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan, although he was in the Army for four years and the reserves for another 4. He’s got some problems, though, that’s certain. He abused his wife and so has limited time with his son. He blames everyone else for his problems. And when he visits a woman he’s interested in and finds her ex-husband at her home he fires a gun through their window. He hears the police coming after him—he’s holed up in a tent in the woods—and he knows it’s not going to end well (fulfilling a prophecy that had been made about him years earlier).
His mother is no prize either, and it’s not hard to understand Martin. But lots of people have lousy mothers and don’t turn out to be the losers Martin is. And that’s why the title—a reference to the great movie with Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy—is significant.
If anyone ever tells you that you can’t write a story with an unsympathetic main character, point to this story as evidence that you sure as hell can.
November 8, 2010: “Boys Town” by Jim Shepard