MUTABLE PLEASURES | Meg Tuite.
⇒It’s about time we discuss a piece from Smokelong, and this piece, “Mutable Pleasures” by Meg Tuite, is a real treasure from the online flash fiction journal. While any strong work of literature is going to be difficult to unpack, I think today’s will be especially challenging if for no other reason than the fact that it’s tough to talk about this story without spoilers. There is a lot that I want to say about this piece, but I don’t want to resort to Spoiler Alerts here on FictionFeed. The writing here on F_F is just meant to be an appetizer, the shitty local opening act for the headlining short story that you’re actually looking forward to reading. So I’ll try my best to include as few plot spoilers as possible in this discussion, as always.
“Mutable Pleasures.” What a beautiful couple of words. The words simply sound pleasurable, they just roll of the tongue, and in my opinion this is a far more beautiful pairing than “cellar door,” which some mistakenly think is the English language’s best combination of words (bullshit). No, the best combo of words is “mutable pleasures.” The word pleasure strikes me as something solid, definite, reliable. Something gives you pleasure or it doesn’t.
But the word mutable is far less definite, far less reliable. As Dictionary.com explains, mutable means
given to changing; constantly changing; fickle or inconstant: “the mutable ways of fortune.”
I suppose pleasures can be mutable. After all, we grow up, our tastes change, etc. The music I enjoyed at age 14 is all pretty godawful by my standards as a 30-year-old today. So we are all fickle and inconstant, I suppose.
Though maybe not as much as the protagonist in this story. The girl in this piece and her sister, Abby, have some very–um–unique fixations. Abby likes to get naked and hump her stuffed panda. The narrator’s own proclivities, on the other hand, tend to focus more on licking lead-based paint and sucking on socks.
What? Why, asks our normal, well-adjusted reader, would a young child be into paint-licking and stuffed-animal-humping, not to mention sock-eating?
I dunno, I suppose these girls have outgrown their binkies but aren’t yet old enough to get into Marlboros and cocaine. It’s an awkward age, I guess.
The mother is a really important character here, and powerfully rendered throughout the piece. The mother can’t make sense of why the girls (particularly the narrator) do what they do, yet she herself happens to be addicted to stimulating things like crossword puzzles and booze–probably the booze, most of all:
…her tiny vodka bottles stamped out our identities as though we had fake passports.
What a great sentence! There are many other gems throughout this short piece, which is incredibly taut and well-executed (but with an organic feel, as if the story came together “naturally”).
Something that’s really fascinating about this story, something that I find rare among many stories written in the 1st-person-past, is the fact that the narrator (when she was a kid) is not really the central character. She incites the main action and serves as a source of conflict, but really her personality is very simple (not in a bad way) while her mother, truly the central character, is incredibly complex. Effacement of the narrating party risks muting the sense of crisis, dampening the story’s emotional resonance, but when we see how the events of this piece affect Mom there’s no doubting the effectiveness of this when-I-was-a-kid framework. The story works really well in bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood, and the author’s narrative approach is the reason why.
Okay, hopefully I didn’t spoil much for you. Go read this beautiful story. Did I mention it’s really funny?