Good evening, Story366!
Today was a normal day for the first time in a while, no travel, no funerals, no birthdays, no holiday weekend. Just a normal day, back at work, teaching class for the first time since the first day of classes. A department meeting sidetracked me from what I’d wanted to do this afternoon—like write this post—but for the most part, today was the first regular day of the semester. About time. I need the routine.
Once the boys are off to school and the Karen is off to work, I’ll have a choice to make every day this semester. I don’t teach or have office hours until later in the afternoon, so I can either A) get right to my office, where I can focus my energies on a variety of tasks; or B) sort of try to do that around my house, which almost definitely will lead to a nap and quite a bit of snacking. Today, option B won in a landslide. Between ten a.m. and two p.m., I did a little bit of work, bookended by a couple of naps, paired with a shockingly large lunch.
Tomorrow, I need to do better.
One thing I did accomplish today was read from Jen McConnell‘s 2012 collection, Welcome, Anybody, out from Press 53. I’ve known Jen and her work for a while, so I’m not really sure why it’s taken me so long to get to her book. But the magic that is Story366 mends all wounds, meaning I spent a nice long while on my couch, taking in her stories.
It was an enjoyable time, too, as McConnell is good at what she does. I read a handful of stories from the book, starting with the lead piece, “Debris,” about a bar waitress who has a creepy regular die during her shift. “The Safest Place in the World” came next and is about an accident-prone pregnant couple trying to make it through their last trimester. I then skipped ahead to “Supergirl”—because I’m a nerd—about a woman who takes her Halloween costume a little too seriously. I also read “A Divorced Man’s Guide to the First Year,” which is exactly what it sounds like. I ended with the title story, “Welcome, Anybody,” which I’ll write about today.
“Welcome, Anybody” is about Jim, a guy who at the start of the story has lost his job. It’s a too-typical scenario of a middle-aged guy just getting pushed out because the company is realigning, going younger and cheaper. Jim heads home, though surprisingly, not all that bothered by what’s happened. He has a nice severence, some savings, and is looking forward to starting again. He’s especially excited to be home early so he can attend his son Daniel’s high school baseball game, which he hasn’t been able to do all season.
Jim’s wife, Nancy, is quite as excited—not so easy for a middle-aged guy to get a new career—and makes Jim pick up the Reverend for the game. The Reverend is Jim’s dad; he and Jim don’t get along. Turns out, the Reverend is a reverend (go figure) and sometime around high school, Jim stopped going to church. Jim played ball then, too, the same school as Daniel, and basically gave up his faith to focus more on getting a scholarship, maybe even drafted. Neither happened, father and son grew apart, and then all of sudden, it’s thirty years later and Jim is unemployed and driving his dad to the same field he went to instead of church.
McConnell spends most of the rest of the story with Jim and the Reverend in the bleachers, bickering, trying to one-up each other with Daniel, who’s the starting pitcher for today’s game. Jim taught Daniel a lot but hasn’t been to any games, while the Reverend hasn’t missed one yet. Daniel’s day is up and down, but neither Jim nor his dad seem to notice: They’re too busy acting like children, bastardizing the purity that should be watching Daniel on the field.
The resolution of this story is real and true, the feeling I got at the end of all of McConnell’s stories. She has the uncanny skill of finding the extraordinary in the slightly above ordinary. Jim has lost his job, certainly a landmark day for him, but not all that uncommon in the grand scheme of twenty-first century fiction. Yet, McConnell makes the most of it, making the story work, surprising me and convincing me all at once. Same thing with that waitress in “Debris,” McConnell turning a memorable anecdote into a life-altering, existential moment. Ditto for the pregnant couple, for Supergirl, and the newly divorced dad. Sure, these are big days for all of them, finding themselves in these peculiar jams, but Jen McConnell knows exactly what she’s doing, how to proceed, making for memorable fiction. Welcome, Anybody is a testament to her talent, distinct and viable, honest and enduring.