Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Virgin of Small Plains/Car Trouble

This week I chose Car Trouble for my short story. It was written by a man, Jas. R. Petrin and I wanted to contrast it with Nancy Pickard, who wrote The Virgin of Small Plains. I am continuing my quest to find definitive differences between men and women authors. I have to admit, this week I think I found some distinctive differences. The Virgin of Small Plains is a story about a small town, and the intricate relationships between family members, friends, and community members. It involves a murder and long-standing cover up. It involves betrayal on several fronts. Pickard is very descriptive of the town, surrounding areas, and each character. She spends a lot of time describing relationships between people and their feelings about events and each other. There is a separate "mysterious" appearing or legend of the dead girl, who is said to have healing powers for all who visit her grave. Car Trouble centers around a sick man, Skig, who is trying to protect a women, Eva Kohl who is a type of friend to him. There is not a lot of information about the extent of their friendship. It appears that she is Skig's age, or a little older. She cuts his hair, and lives close by. They have an easy and friendly relationship as shown by the laughter shared at the beginning of the story. Eva shares that she is selling her car and buying a different car on lease. Skig thinks she is being taken advantage of but she won't listen to him. He takes it upon himself to talk to and intimidate the car dealer, Happy Dan Ducher. In the beginning paragraphs of this story it is clearly insinuated that Skig has some type of criminal history, and is or has been a dangerous man. He is easily able to intimidate Dan, and convinces him to go down on the price and make a fair deal to Eva. When Eva goes to make the deal, Dan is murdered while she is there. Briefly she is a suspect and he gets her a lawyer. He is also a suspect, but has an alibi since he had been at the doctors office. There is a receptionist , Ms Russell, who worked at the car dealership. He saw her having an arguement with a scroungy looking man, DeLuca and was suspicious of their dealings. Through various ways, he found out where she lived and her relationship with Happy Dan, as well as her relationship with the scroungy man. He intimidated her into telling him about DeLuca's car theft business and he determined that DeLuca killed Dan. During this story, Skig tried to protect Eva, even got her a lawyer. He also tried to protect Ms. Russell once he heard that DeLuca was hitting her. Although he was sick, he was not afraid to confront a younger and more fit DeLuca, and during a fight between them, DeLuca was killed. This story did not have much about the feelings in these relationships. There was some insinuation. There was also not a lot of information about Skig's life that made him able to intimidate others so easily. He did not commit any crime during this story, but used his reputation to get information and to make Happy Dan treat Eva fairly. This more direct approach to the facts of the story, with little information about feelings and emotions, or details about past seems a little more like the style of a male author. I liked this story but have some ambivalence about it. I was a little intrigued that i did not know everything I wanted to know about Skig. It kept me wondering. At the same time, I was a little bothered with the lack of information. I was not sure what part his illness played, except to give him an alibi. Maybe it was his illness that made him want to make sure Eva was alright, and to find the murderer. But a lot was left to the imagination. I liked The Virgin of Small Plains much better. I really liked the story development and the setting was integral to the character's interactions. I think Car Trouble could have taken place in a large city or mid-size town. Setting did not seem to be important to this story. I find I like a more fully developed story and have liked the novels better. But if I want a shorter read, I would not turn away a short story.
I have learned a lot in this class about the effect of setting, class and race on a novel, and the importance they may play. When used well they can make the story feel more real, and pull the reader into a time in history, or geographical place, or society that the reader may not have had experience with. I have also really enjoyed reading other's thoughts on the discussion board and the blog.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mystic River/A Different Road

A Different Road was a short story that detailed the change in the relationship between a husband and wife, after they both experienced a kidnapping late in life. The reader was not told right away about the kidnapping, but it was clear there was a traumatic incident. The details unfolded in pieces, and obviously the Kitteridges both were still trying to deal with a traumatic event. The author suggested that they had enjoyed a long and happy married life. Henry was very outgoing and friendly. Olive was kind and helpful to others, but more reserved. As the story continued, the reader discovered that on the way home from a social evening Henry and Olive stopped by the hospital so Olive could use the bathroom. The nurse was concerned for her, and convinced her to go to the examining room. While there, she, the doctor, the nurse, and later Henry were held captive in the bathroom as part of a drug theft. Olive was in the humiliating position of sitting on the floor in her little hospital gown. Henry was unable to save her, but during the encounter they both said many things to and about each other to try and keep the situation under control. They each reacted differently to the kidnapper. Although they lived through the incident, each was changed in their feelings about themselves and each other. Mystic River had the incident of the kidnapping that forever changed the lives of three young friends, Jimmy, Sean and Dave. Throughout the story, we see at different points how they are all haunted by their actions during the incident. It changed the relationship between the three of them, and also, influenced the way they thought of themselves.
At one point in A Different Road, when discussing the difficulties they were having in their relationship, Olive and Henry stated that they both said things during the kidnapping that were hurtful, and it would take a while to get over it. In Mystic River there was not much if any conversation between the three boys about their changed relationships.
In Mystic River the characters were greatly affected by the place in which they lived. A Different Road is about a couple whose history of married life is common, but whose acceptance and dealing with a life changing event caused them to part ways a little. In Mystic River Sean was a type of rescuer, due to his role in law enforcement. Altlhough he did not try to be close friends with Dave, you could tell there was a connection, and he was commited to help his old friend Jimmy by finding his daughters murdere. In A Different Road Olive was a type of rescuer. We already knew she volunteered to help others before the incident, but after it was over, she had felt a bond with one of the kidnappers. She called him Blue Mask. He seemed a little confused, and nervous, definitely not the mastermind of the criminals. At the end of the story, the reader is surprised to learn that she has established a relationship with Blue Mask while he is in prison, and is making him a gift.

I think one of the differences in these two stories is that in Mystic River the main characters never really stepped out of the roles they saw themselves in. They responded in the expected ways. But in A Different Road I think the difficulty Olive and Henry had after the incident was because both of them responded in a way that seemed foreign to the other one. They did not know how to handle it when their spouse stepped out of the expected role.
Both of these stories focused a lot on emotions, but I think the way it was approached was a little different. A Different Road focused on the struggle with feelings, but each character became more inward about it. There were not many outward actions or major decisions that came out of their feelings. Mystic River was largely about actions and decisions the characters made, based on the feelings they were experiencing. Mystic River would not be as effective at all as a short story. The depth of it was its' beauty. A Different Road was good as a short story. A longer version would have become tedious. I enjoyed the short story this week, although it was depressing. The novel was excellent. Mystic River was more methodical, which I attribute to a male author. A Different Road had a less direct plot and skirted the issues a bit, but led to the crux of the story without being distracting, which I attribute to the style of a female writer.