Running with Wolves

living room

THIS AIN’T NO PARTY | Jessica Barksdale

Pithead Chapel

⇒This is a very menacing story. I’m not particularly interested in stories that are excessively violent or destructive, but pieces ripe with potential violence, balancing tip-toed on the edge of a precipice–that’s the sort of story that keeps me interested. This is the latter kind, one of imminent danger.

The premise is simple: there are two drifter types who meet at a bar. One is our unspoken male protagonist, the narrator; the other is Tony Disco. The narrator soon suspects that “Disco” is not his real last name.

Make no mistake: this is a very dark story. Mr. Disco turns out to be a pretty shady character, not to mention physically imposing (we sense from descriptions of the aftermath of the narrator’s and Tony’s carnal activities), and further, we suspect, is not to be trusted. So what happens when our protagonist meets someone Who Is Not To Be Trusted? They start living together, naturally. Again, we have that sense of imminent danger.

And they’re not exactly moving into an upscale apartment either, but rather the scene of a suspected murder. So the two characters end up crashing in the home of a murder victim and her accused-killer husband (who’s in jail), eating the couple’s food, drinking their alcohol, fucking in their bed and basically trashing the place. Typical drifter activity, I suppose.

A few other things take place in the story, which I won’t spoil here. You’ll have to read the story for yourself. It’s very suspenseful, as I said. We know that something bad is going to happen (Chekhov’s gun in full effect), but we don’t know exactly what until the end. What we do know is that Tony is dangerous, capable of god knows what. What we don’t know is what will transpire when the “party,” such as it is, comes to an end. And all parties come to an end.

Let’s talk about technique: Ms. Barksdale shows great technical ability throughout this piece. Her details and metaphors are understated and deadly precise, her pacing seemingly leisurely while at the same time driving the plot and character development constantly forward. This is a very economical piece–not too long, not a word of dialogue more than is necessary. I suppose the sense of dread that runs through the whole story is a product of this economy of style and careful pacing. Both of the characters in this piece prove unreliable, suspect, and the author herself is careful not to show all the cards in her hand, revealing information very gradually.

I suppose the moral of this little write-up today is to show that, in the hands of an experienced writer, even very short prose works are capable of resounding suspense. It’s rare that a short story author can build up her world and characters so effectively and quickly as to have me sucked into her story and biting my nails as I follow it to its inevitable outcome–but this author and her story do exactly that.

Read this piece over at Pithead Chapel.

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