Good morning, Story366! Writing to you today from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where my Spring Break! road trip has hit a minor snag. If you read yesterday’s blog post, you know that I departed from Springfield with my crew in Jimmy D’s grandpa’s Skylark, and that we were set to land in Daytona Beach some time in the afternoon today. Only, somewhere outside of Nashville, a state trooper spotted a deluge of water dripping from the back of the trunk and followed us all the way here, where the kindly officers found the eleven twenty-four packs of Beast Light crammed into the trunk with a bunch of ice, all of it melting and falling through the wheel wells, leaving a trail for them to follow. The officers weren’t too happy when they found seven of us—me, Jimmy D, Vinnie, Three-balls, Bizquick, Jimmy Z, and Cornhole—rammed into the car, half of those guys under age, and more than a few Beast Light cans, per guy, empty and crushed on the Skylark floor. So, a couple of the younger boys had to go to the courthouse to pay a fine, Jimmy D had to call his grandpa and confirm we had permission to use the ‘lark, and me, the oldest by more than twice as much, got a stern talking-to by the Murfreesboro Chief of Police. We should be back on the road in an hour or so, and by midnight, we’ll be at Three-balls’ uncle’s doublewide, drinking whatever he’s got there, Murfreesboro’s finest confiscating what was left of our Beast Light.
This little stay in the courthouse has given me ample opportunity to read and write for today’s post. Traveling through the South, I was reminded to bring along some Jill McCorkle, a writer I associate with the South as much as anyone; okay, maybe not as much as Faulkner or O’Connor, but just about anyone. I know she’s from the South and has taught at North Carolina State for a long time, and falls under that umbrella of Southern Women Writers I’ve always had in my mind, along with Lee Smith and Bobbie Ann Mason, ever since I took a class in grad school titled “Southern Women Writers” and did a paper on their stories. I might go down to the Waffle House and get some coffee and grits while I write this, but I hate coffee and grits, so I’ll just sit here on the nice bench outside the city processing office, tell you about “Intervention.”
“Intervention” is from McCorkle’s 2009 collection Going Away Shoes, the third collection by McCorkle that I’ve read, after her classic first, Crash Diet, and then Final Vinyl Days. She’s established herself as one of the masters of the craft, a moniker I would agree with, and while she’s been lost a bit in the trends of absurdism and fabulism, she still cranks out tremendous stories (and novels, I’m guessing, which I haven’t read), full of great characters, predicaments, and details. I love everything I’ve read by her.
“Intervention” is no exception. It’s the story of Marilyn, a retired junior high teacher, living it up with Sid, her longtime husband. Sid’s been drinking too much lately and Marilyn is worried that every time he drives away, it’ll be the last time she sees him. She’s so worried, she makes an uncharacteristic call to her daughter, Sally, and suggests the intervention, so that’s on the table in the opening scene. Her little family—Marilyn, Sally, Sally’s know-it-all social worker husband, Rusty, and Sally’s brother, Tom—is going to confront Sid one day and try to fend off any tragic end. Plans start to form, taken over by Rusty, and the story is set into motion.
Marilyn almost immediately regrets her decision, as one trait defines Marilyn more than any other: She likes to be in charge, especially where her kids are concerned. Most of the rest of the story, the prep time for the intervention, Marilyn stews about her choice, running criticism of her children and their spouses in her head. Marilyn doesn’t need their help. Marilyn doesn’t want their help. They have their own problems, which they’re only so-so at solving, and it’s revealed, late in the story, that Marilyn and Sid have had worse problems, problems they’ve worked through, on their own, just fine. Once Marilyn put the ball into motion, however, it was too late: Her stubborn, know-it-all kids are traveling to South Carolina to deal with their dad’s drinking and Marilyn is going to have to deal with that.
McCorkle is all about building character, whether it’s the glacial change that Marilyn experiences in the story, or the details of her kids’ lives that are sprinkled throughout, adding up to quite complex people in their own right. Marilyn, for example, calls Tommy’s ex’s house, just to hear her voice and her grandkids’ voices on the Voicemail, only to discover *69 exists and end up in a conversation with her son’s family—living in Minnesota with a new man—she wasn’t expecting. This kind of anecdote is spread throughout “Intervention,” as well as the title story from the book, “Going Away Shoes,” the other I’ve read so far. It’s how McCorkle builds, and by the time the stories end, I feel like I’ve read a novel, so many facts about each character planted in my head, each person so real.
The intervention in “Intervention” happens, but doesn’t got the way that anyone, including Marilyn, suspects. Everything we’d read about Marilyn so far lends itself to the scene, her behavior, her choices, what happens when it’s all over and the kids have gone home. An intervention like this could only have so many outcomes, but McCorkle surprises us, but at the same time, gives us an ending that makes perfect sense.
I checked my phone for a map of the South to see if Raleigh is anywhere near our route to Daytona, as I was thinking we could stop by McCorkle’s office at NC State, maybe leave her a sixer of Beast outside her door. It’s not really on the way, though, and since we’ll already have to spend our paltry funds on replacing the beers those Murfreesboro cops snagged from us, we probably don’t have enough gas money for any sidecuts. That’s probably good, because it’d probably go all skunk by Monday, or if State’s on break, too, next Monday, and we do not want to give the great Jill McCorkle skunked beer. Maybe she’s on break, too, and we’ll see her down in Daytona. If I do, I’ll give her a cold one, tell her how great I think she is.