The Challenge of Basic Human Interaction

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HOMEGOING | Maria Hummer.

Passages North.

⇒I appreciate when literary journals that are by and large print-only start sharing some of their content for free online. This is for two reasons. One: I think it opens up the journal to a larger audience. Two: as a reader, I don’t like to pay for things. (So that’s why FictionFeed features only internet literature. It’s not that print lit is no good–far from it–but the truth is we’re cheap bastards, and lazy on top of that.)

I was pleased to discover “Homegoing,” Maria Hummer’s incredible short story published in Northern Michigan University’s impressive literary journal Passages North. Here are five adjectives that describe this story:

Human.

Awkward.

Funny.

Sad.

Innocent.

In fact, these five descriptors can be applied to the story’s protagonist as well. The narrative and the protagonist feel like one in the same thing–that’s how powerful and effective the author’s use of voice and scene are in this story. Sure, in actuality a character inhabits a narrative and that narrative delineates the character, but they are not one in the same. Yet an effective short story, and this is a very effective short story, manages to merge these two craft elements in such a way that we experience the world through the character. That sense of authenticity and identification are really powerful. I really connected with this piece.

Here’s a single paragraph about the plot: Sarah is alone. Her boyfriend left her and he took all the stuff in the apartment. He even took the hand towels. Sarah feels–and we feel–that something essential has been ripped from her (bad breakups can be like that, after all). She has no friends. She makes some pies with fruit she needs to get rid of and she delivers these pies to various neighbors in her apartment building in an attempt at human connection. Human connection remains largely elusive. She struggles to speak or act in an appropriate manner. Sarah appears to be a little rusty at this whole social interaction thing. She works at an ice cream parlor. There is a woman in her building with a long rustling skirt. In her apartment, which is actually her ex-boyfriend’s apartment, she finds a spoon. And so on.

This is a very sad piece but also a very funny piece. The sad and the funny often happen at the same time.

Sarah never tells us, I’m sad. Or, I’m hurt. Or, I’m lonely. We sense this through her actions and interactions, through.

The first-person voice works really well. We have to stretch our imaginations a little bit to see just how awkward and ridiculous the character frequently acts, since she doesn’t tell us directly about her social quirks. We are Sarah and she has only a limited sense of how others see her.

What I love about this piece is the fact that the character makes a big deal out of the mundane. It is vitally important that she gives pies to her neighbors and finds the owner of the lost spoon and interacts with the equally socially awkward guy who lives with the rustling-skirt woman. These things are very important, to her, and that pervasive reality creates a whole bunch of pathos and comedy and real-life relevance. This story reminds me of the novel Clown Girl by Monica Drake, which is also about loss and displacement and mundane things perceived to be of vital importance.

This story is imbued with melancholy, but there are also a few moments of hopefulness and connectedness. Reading this piece, I got the sense that we the human race are not as dysfunctional and disaffected and generally fucked as some literature may tell us we are. I appreciate that. I appreciate hope in small doses. In stories like this, a small dose goes a long way.

Go read the story at Passages North.

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