Another Side of the Story

Jason Stout’s piece, “My Corona,” is up on Every Day Fiction today, and he asked me to take a look. I figured I might as well do that as a post, though I should note that Jason was the first person to start reading and commenting on this blog, so that may make me a bit biased.

Since “My Corona” is a companion piece to “Larry Legend,” the first thing I did was go back and read that. The two stories overlap because of a high-school almost-romance between the main character of “Larry” and the main character of “Corona.” From “Larry Legend”:

And if they’re from French Lick, they’ll go out to Grapevine Holler and remember how they used to smoke grapevine and chew blackjack gum and drink stolen Boone’s Farms. Or they’ll go down to the Jubil bar and hope to run into Jamie Fisher who was hot and easy way back when, but never for you. Because the easy girls don’t hook up with the ones who want out. Or you’ll have breakfast at the Villager and start smoking again because, why the hell not, you’ll get a pack’s worth of second-hand smoke there anyway, so you may as well enjoy it.

From “My Corona”:

Jamie spun gravel on Sand Hill Road leaving their trailer later that night. She wouldn’t go far, she knew. But she was tired of being called a retard by Sam. She drove to the Honey-Do-Stop and bought a Diet Coke and a Snickers before driving the strip. Past Ballard Mansion. The old 7-Up bottling plant. She was about to go home when she saw the crowd gathered at the Jubil. A good crowd for a Thursday.

And, of course, Jamie runs into the main character from “Larry” when she gets to the Jubil.

I like interconnected short stories — they’re not interconnected the way novels are. The stories exist in the same world, but they can be about totally different things. “Larry Legend” seems to me to be about the fine line between being nostalgic and being trapped. There’s a bit of romance thrown in, but, most of all, it’s about the main character having gotten stuck in a small town after all, when he thought he’d gotten away.

Jamie is trapped more completely, in a marriage and in a trailer. To her, getting out in a physical sense is unthinkable. She escapes by hanging on to pieces of knowledge that seem to belong to her alone:

She knew that sunlight traveled at around 186,000 miles per second, but how she knew it or where she heard it, she couldn’t remember. When she wanted to feel smart, or to appear that way, she would tell people that it takes eight minutes and eighteen seconds for the light of the sun to reach the Earth’s surface. Someone could turn off the sun, she would say, and we wouldn’t know about it for over eight minutes.

This story is about the might-have-been romance that was an aside in “Larry Legend.” The feeling of nostalgia works. There’s a simple line toward the end that does exactly what it’s supposed to do:

Jamie leaned forward and for a moment the two recaptured seventeen.

I think that line may be the core of the story; about two characters wanting to be seventeen, before life’s path becomes solid and determined, and about them knowing in their hearts that there’s no going back. It’s great for it to be there, plain and simple, at just the right moment in the story.

I have a few more things to add about the story’s construction. The image of the sun is good. It’s a random fact, which is what Jamie wants, that does seem to shed metaphoric light on the rest of the story. The image of the corona — this cold place between two heats — is an interesting one to have in a story about reawakened desire. Kudos to Jason for choosing a random fact that adds value and meaning to the story.

As readers have noted in the comments on Every Day Fiction, the dialogue stumbles a bit towards the middle. Jason tries to give back story through dialogue, which is tricky, because it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of: “As you know, Bob, we’ve been married for 14 years, and have been mostly happy except for the affair you had that I’ve never been able to forgive you for.”

In “My Corona,” what happens is that the male lead falls into a paragraph-long description that doesn’t sound like dialogue. But I think the problem might stem from Jamie’s cluelessness. She asks, “Why didn’t we ever get together?” as if she really doesn’t know. I can say from experience that this question is typically asked coyly, as a way of introducing the topic of getting together in the present. It then sounds strange for the male lead to take her so literally. She continues asking questions about what happened, presumably because she was drunk on the night in question. This part might be more natural if she made a few jokes here, or gave little hints of what she’d been thinking before or after that night. Things even out again when the two get back to talking about the sun.

I also have mixed feelings about the end. Leading into it, the story is right on:

She thought about what she wanted to do with her long-lost friend. She thought about the sun and the ring of cold.

I think I want the story to end right there. Instead, Jamie chuckles and repeats a line from the beginning of the story, creating the circle structure that many stories have. I don’t think that’s necessary here.

I think I’ve been a bit harder on Jason than I usually am, in my effort to avoid being biased. Regardless of that, I like “My Corona.” The themes of nostalgia, lost romance, and being trapped, whether in a small town or a marriage, are important and well-explored. I also like that “Larry Legend” and “My Corona” seem to reach different conclusions on these themes. At the end of “Larry,” I have a feeling of claustrophobia. Here’s the main character, stuck in this town again. At the end of “Corona,” on the other hand, the world is opening a little for Jamie. She has another secret piece of knowledge to take back and treasure. That knowledge, and the implicit connection to the male lead that it contains, means that she can never truly be trapped.

Jason’s other work is well worth checking out. You can find it here.

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