Greetings, Story366! I’m posting earlier today, as that’s the goal of summer, to get back on an early track. Tonight I’m being prompted by a special evening: We’re going to get throwed rolls. What’re throwed rolls, you ask? There’s a place outside of Springfield called Lambert’s Café, which seems to be the basis of the Cracker Barrel chain, an old-timey restaurant where everything’s made of wood, everything’s deep fried with lard, and members of the Ingalls family from Little House on the Prairie would feel at home. It’s absolutely fabulous, and one of their charms—along with their huge portions and wall of Lynyrd Skynyrd photos (taken when the band ate their thirty years ago)—is how employees walk around with unlimited free sides (fried okra, macaroni and tomatoes, that sort of thing), including fresh-baked rolls; the sides they spoon onto your plate from a big tin can, but the rolls? They throw them. At any given time at Lambert’s, one might get socked in the head by a roll, destined for someone’s hand, caught instead by your mug. It happens. Then you and your roll-printed face pick up the roll and you eat it, with butter and molasses and floor crumbs. And you love it.
A friend of ours is in town for some work thing and he has no dinner plans, so we’re taking him to Lambert’s. We go about three times a year, usually when we have out-of-town company, and tonight, Story366 readers, is one of those nights.
So before I eat a week’s worth of calories during one meal, I figure I ought to tell you about Caitlin Macy’s story, “Spoiled,” the title story from her collection Spoiled, out from Random House a few years ago. If I don’t make it home tonight, an order of all-you-can eat fried _______ gone and done me in, I want you to know that this is a good story, by a good writer, from a good book, and you can take things from there yourself.
“Spoiled” is about a young girl, Leigh Houghton, who is spoiled. She’s a prep-school type, the kind of teenager who shows ponies at horse events and plays field hockey instead of working part time at a fast food joint and playing volleyball (and eating at Lambert’s). Leigh’s from money and she acts it. In the first scene, as a horse trailer pulls up to take her to a show, she mouths off to her mother, acting like a petulant child. Sure, a lot of teenage girls do this, but when Macy sets her up as who she is, it’s hard not to think her petulance is the result of her upbringing, the fact that very few people, if any, have ever told her no. And that’s what Macy wants us to think: Leigh is a flawed protagonist, for sure, making for an interesting story.
Leigh, and her pony, Nye, are picked up for a show by Mrs. Murray and her daughter, Kim. Mrs. Murray used to train Leigh, but Leigh moved on to a different, more expensive trainer, a trainer who doesn’t take Leigh to shows because Leigh is, frankly, not talented enough. So, the Houghtons have to bite their lips and pay Mrs. Murray to transport her and her ride to lesser-circuit events instead, a situation that causes all kinds of conflicts, all kinds of class-war issues. Mrs. Murray, despite owning horses and having a daughter who competes as well, is the working-class type, someone who owns a ranch and works her ass off to maintain it; someone who needs the thirty bucks to cart sassy Leigh back and forth. For Mrs. Murray and Kim Murray, horses are a livelihood; for Leigh, they’re a hobby, something she does but could give up at any time.
Leigh’s mouthiness and her lack of riding skill are apparent, but she manages to take sixth place in an early competition (one that Kim takes second in). This gives her a lot of confidence, as well as arrogance, and as she and Mrs. Murray bicker. When Mrs. Murray tries to council her—Leigh wants to enter a jumping competition despite not knowing how to jump—Leigh tells her to fuck off. This is a turning point in the story, as despite their class separation, and the fact that Mrs. Murray basically works for Leigh, Mrs. Murray will not tolerate that type of treatment. She chases Leigh as Leigh walks away and dresses her down. Leigh, not at all happy with this, takes her humiliation and frustration out on Nye, which Mrs. Murray won’t tolerate, either, of course.
Stuck at this horse show miles from home, her parents nowhere near nor all that interested, Leigh spends the rest of the story figuring out how she’s going to reckon herself with what she’s done, how she’s treated her beloved pony, how she’s treated a loyal and wise family employee. Will Leigh learn a lesson? Will she change? Will she somehow make things worse? You’ll have to read to find out.
I really like Macy’s collection, as the stories seems to deal with the theme of class differences throughout. I’ve read a couple of the other stories, including “Christie,” a first-person peripheral story about a narrator who can’t seem to stand a fellow society friend who came from meager beginnings. Macy’s addressing something we don’t see all that often, the snobs vs. slobs from the snobs’ perspective, people who have to not only deal with life, but deal with people who simply don’t have as much money, who never will, and often, depend on them for what they do have. How does Macy succeed in making these people human, more sympathetic than, say, the Ted Knight character in Caddyshack or those preppies in Metropolitan? She does so by making her characters three-dimensional, more than just an expensive handbag or country club membership. Leigh in “Spoiled” is pretty awful, but she’s a kid, a kid whose parents probably made her that way, a kid who tries to atone for her sins. Plus, Macy’s writing’s top-notch, the stories fast-paced, and the voices distinct. I enjoyed the reading as much as anything. She’s a writer I admire after not having read anything by her before today. Spoiled is worth checking out.