Dread

I just read the May 2009 issue of The Sun (I’m excited to say that I have a short piece in the Readers Write section of that issue, which has been a longtime goal for me). The Sun is a high-quality magazine that always lends itself to a cover-to-cover read, but I wanted to mention the short story this issue, “A New Painting of Marianne,” by Sam Wilson. The story starts strong and keeps going:

It wasn’t my idea to call Marianne. I hadn’t talked to her since she’d shown up drunk on our porch one cummer night and tried to kiss me in front of my wife. That was four years earlier, just before Jenny and I had moved from Phoenix to Tucson. Now we were back in Phoenix and looking to buy a house. We had been denied three separate mortgages for one reason or another, and last we’d heard Marianne was still working as a loan officer at a Bank of America downtown. It was Jenny’s idea for me to call.

The story ends up being in a sub-genre that I think of as “deal with the devil,” even though there’s no actual devil in sight. Wilson nails this aspect of the story–I felt real dread as it progressed and I feared that the main character would pass the point of no return. Every character is vivid, and every setting well-described.

I was left wondering about a few things. The character goes way farther than he should in the name of a mortgage. At first, I thought this made the story less believable, but I eventually decided that it told me something about the character. There is no actual painting of Marianne in the story. I was disappointed by that, but, again, it says something about the character.

Finally, the character is one who suffers from the problem that he’s a brilliant artist when drunk, but seems to lack talent when sober. I think this is a myth, and I think it’s too widespread, so I don’t like the way it seems to be true in the story. I’m fascinated by the idea of choosing between art and sanity, but I’d really, really like to believe that a person can have both. However, the story’s well-written, and I can’t take points away from it just because of a belief that I have. Ultimately, the story is about the effort to choose sanity, and I think it has a lot to say about that.

The Sun puts a portion of its content online, so it’s possible that this story will eventually be accessible from the Internet. But why not just buy a copy of The Sun? The Readers Write section is mesmerizing. I always make it through that section, even amid the sea of magazines that I manage to acquire.

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