“That’s a Gross Fucking Pile of Stuff”
Robot Melon 13.
Charlie Max and Barlow Stanton live in rapidly worsening squalor. As the narrator points out, “Barlow and Charlie have rid themselves of pests by beating them at their own game.” So they live among an ever-increasing collection of useless garbage (picture the TV show Hoarders) that has driven them to their third story balcony, the only place yet to be subsumed in filth and neglect. Naturally, there is no shortage of garbage-related symbolism in terms of psychic scarring, emotional immaturity and a general inability to part with the physical and psychological “junk” that has lost all value in their lives and now only serves as an encumbrance. Okay, we get it.
But there are other things going on in this story. Other elements include: one and one-half coffee tables, one-half set of Encyclopedia Britannicas holding up the legless end of the half coffee table (there are stories behind these), violent thunder and lightning zapping chunks of stone from their house (Charlie and Barlow are indifferent to, and in fact fail to even remark on, this rather unnerving situation), a bird, an ex, and fire. There is also a great deal of philosophizing on the part of our protagonists; the two seem quite educated and well-spoken, an unexpected contrast to the mountains of unidentifiable garbage surrounding these men.
It’s a big wonderful mess of a short story, which seems appropriate given the title: “That’s a Gross Fucking Pile of Stuff.” If the author were to submit this piece to a typical writers’ group or MFA workshop, there would surely be some suggestions in the neighborhood of “tightening up some of the prose” or perhaps restructuring the plot away from its current rambling approach. But I like the rambling nature of the piece; sure, it wanders around, goes into backstory at one point, than outside to look at some raindrops and a bird (frozen in time for a paragraph), then back inside so the men can talk about whatever it is they’re talking about. The whole conversation between the guys is generally less engaging than the more concrete details of the piece.
If you were to Sparknote this story, you would come up with some controlling themes like Loneliness, Loss, and Obsession, as well as motifs like Fire, Trash, and Rain. Ultimately, the story’s exegetical opportunities are far less interesting than the world we see on first glance, which is vivid and smelly and gross and sad. It’s wonderful, and I suggest simply reading the story for this experience alone—larger literary significance be damned.