Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Short Story Month 2011: Gettysburg Review -- Geoffrey Lee (#ssm2011)

"Niramiai" by Geoffrey Lee is the first story in the current issue of The Gettysburg Review.

I like this story a lot because it's fresh and different. It's not about the same old world we read about all the time. It's set in a working-class Buffalo bar that is the scene of a sumo wrestling tournament, of all things. A construction worker who saw a documentary about sumo encouraged his drinking buddies to participate, and now we're down to the championship match: the narrator (who is short and so has an advantageously low center of gravity) vs. John, a cocky personal trainer.

The narrator arrives with his Polish girlfriend, Nadia, and John is with his girlfriend, Andrea, whom he doesn't treat very well. They drink--quite a lot--and then it's time for the match, in a ring that is marked by blue painter's tape on the floor of the bar's back room.

Meanwhile, the narrator has reviewed some of the features of sumo, the training of the wrestlers, the dimensions and composition of the ring, and some of the rules. And he knows this because Andrea--John's girlfriend--has given him a book about it that John wasn't interested in, because he wasn't taking the tournament seriously.

It's the combination of circumstances that give the story its texture: there's no construction work around, so the narrator has nothing to do; Nadia is newly arrived and, although her accented English is good, she doesn't quite fit in; the men--not unlike real sumo wrestlers--have guts, even the personal trainer, and seem to be sensitive about them, hiding them under baggy t-shirts or sweat shirts (the narrator won't let Nadia touch his); only the narrator really knows the rules; they drink a lot of beer and collect the bottle caps that are marked like a deck of cards, but the narrator isn't sure what he'll do if he ever collects the whole deck.

While they seem to think things will get better--they have to, sooner or later--for now their world is pretty bleak. But this one competition, this one bit of dignity, is all the narrator has to hold onto.


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