April 8: “Miss America Has a Plan” by Monica Drake

It’s Friday of Books I Got at AWP Week at Story366! As I’ve been saying all week, it’s been a hoot to just pick up a book and read from it so quickly, especially since I’ve often had books for years, even decades (with an S at the end), before I’ve read them. Of course, that’s one of the main factors that prompted this project—me having so many unread books on my shelf—but that certainly won’t be the case for this week’s books, these seven in particular.

Today’s story comes from a just-released Future Tense Books offering, The Folly of Loving Life by Monica Drake. I’ve not read any Monica Drake before, so this is a virgin exploration, though I have noted that one of her blurbs exclaims, “I have been waiting for Monica Drake’s story collection since 2005 …!” So, once again, nice to get on this train, even though it’s already left the station and is up to full speed.

“Miss America Has a Plan” is the story I’m writing about today, the one that stands out clearly among the five I’ve read from Folly. I liked the other stories—especially Drake’s shorts—but this story works on, as they say, a few different levels for me. It’s the story of an American woman in a dive bar in Guanajuato, traveling and drinking incognito, using the fake name Maria de Socorro, for what reason we’re not sure. It’s late one night and in comes a handsome, but tired and worn-looking man, whose name we don’t ever quite catch. Immediately, the pair begin drinking together, and immediately, Maria is entranced by this rugged man, whom she mistakes for a great historical revolutionary—in the spirit of Che Guevara—along with other people (including, most oddly, Freddie Mercury).

As the night moves onward and the two continue to drink, Maria becomes more and more convinced  that the man she is with is some great figure in a revolution. Nothing the man says discredits this notion, and soon the dialogue moves from small talk to seduction to her unzipping him in an alley. She is excited, turned on by the notion that this man is some famed revolutionary and she gets to have sex with him in an alley. The story really rises from there as this vaunted revolutionary can’t get it up. Maria is convinced she can do it, all whilst this man yells out revolutionary phrases like “It’s the decline of civilization.” She offers to go to his place, but he lives with his mother. It’s a sad encounter, prompted by a sad assumption, misconception, dialogue. It’s weird and surreal and I laughed at what was going on, Drake managing the ridiculousness quite well.

I’m not really sure what to make of all of “Miss America Has a Plan,” if the man is really a revolutionary or just some shlub and Maria is just drunk and eager and hopeful and romantic. Or maybe this is how revolutions happen. Or maybe Maria—that’s not even her real name—is making it all up. Or she’s imagining it. I don’t know, but that’s what I like about this, because it’s a lark, a parody of some old Hemingway novel, a scene where desperate, brave people meet up, ships passing in the night, one of them destined to be killed the next morning, their night of passion of last bastion of life. It’s a story I enjoyed and admired.

I’m so glad to have found Monica Drake and The Folly of Loving Life at AWP. If only I had more room in my luggage.

Monica Drake