June 12: “The Point” by Charles D’Ambrosio

Here’s to your safety today, Story366. In light of today’s tragedy in Orlando, I’m not in the most festive of moods, not thinking it’s time for a silly anecdote. I have a few friends down in Orlando—permanent residents, friends on vacation, and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law—and I’m happy to have found out that they’re all accounted for. I know that this isn’t true for everyone, and my heart goes out to you. This kind of violence can’t make much sense, but hopefully, all the support that is flowing in your direction is some small comfort in these times.

This morning, I almost posted a funny—relatively speaking—video on Facebook, which would have been accompanied by some snarky caption. Instead of just describing the video, click here to view it.

Had I posted on this last night, or when I first saw it a few days ago, I would have made some playful generalization about Missourians and their love of guns, though nothing like that is coming now. What’s important is to realize that this is a real thing, that a man looking to run for governor of my state has paid tens of thousands of dollars for this ad campaign, him shooting some futuristic automatic rifle into a field for the purpose of making smething blow up. That’s his entire strategy, to use some futuristic assault rifle to make a loud noise with lots of fire and destruction, note he was a Navy SEAL, then smile. The ad is supposed to tell his whole story, that the 2nd Amendment, and its most loosest of interpretations, is what he’s all about. In other words, if you believe individual citizens should be able to not only buy instrument of mass-death, then go out into the public and shoot it off, blow something up, then he’s your guy. We can infer that his hope is that there’s enough Missourians who believe in that to elect him, that they’d choose him over someone with a record of political service, with someone who has addressed other issues, with someone not skewed enough to approve the very ad that he’s taken part in.

Today this message hurts, as this guy’s not only for the 2nd Amendment, Americans keeping rifles for hunting or handguns for home protection, but weapons designed to kill mass amounts of people, as quickly and efficiently as possible. There’s no thought of these weapons falling into the wrong hands—the NRA has ensured that gun control or even gun research will never be voted on or funded by our Senate—just as long as he and his friends can have these weapons, can go out and shoot the crap out of stuff as part of their violent hobby.

I’m going to take a guess that these commercials will stop running, in light of what happened today in Orlando, but maybe not. Karen and I spoke about this today, and as awful as Orlando was, the people who believe in assault rifle rights will only believe in them more. Rational people will say, “How did a man on the FBI watch list for terrorism buy assault rifles, legally, just last week in the U.S.?” while the gun nuts will say, “If those bouncers had assault rifles, too, this kind of thing would never have happened.” These are the same people who want to arm every teacher in every school and let Americans, if they want, own bazookas, just have them in their houses, drive around with them in their cars, because damn it, a bunch of farmers from 18th-Century America thought it was a good idea to keep a musket in the barn in case King George showed his ugly mug in the colonies ever again.

Poor Charles D’Ambrosio, who wrote a great story and great book, “The Point” (this link’s the full text, btw) and The Point, respectively, was chosen for today’s post and has nothing to do with what happened in Orlando. In fact, had “The Point” been to similar to today’s tragedy, I might have skipped it and moved it to later in the week. But as it stands, I’m ready to move on to Story366 and I hope you are, too.

“The Point” is about Kurt, a kid in a rich summer seaside resort community, someplace like Hyannis or Newport or Martha’s Vineyard. Kurt, thirteen, has found an interesting summer job: He makes sure rich party-goers get to their summer homes after they’ve had too much to drink at parties, particularly those thrown by his mother, an eccentric widow who gets wasted in front of her son and allows him to see her, and all their neighbors, in that state. It’s hard to tell if Kurt likes doing what he’s doing, but he’s an honest, thoughtful, soulful kid, and above everything else, he wants to do a good job. One time, Kurt almost didn’t—do a good job that is—leaving a guy outside his house, on the beach, underestimating the reach of the tide, nearly drowning the poor guy to death. It’s his only blip. Really, though, Kurt is just a kid and these characters are putting too much stock in his abilities. Think about it, Story366 reader: Would you leave your drunk and passed-out self under the care of a thirteen year old? Especially after he nearly drowned a guy? I wouldn’t, and you might not, but remember, these are rich alcoholics; on two counts, they don’t see the world like normal people do, and that’s enough to give Kurt a second chance.

Most of the story involves Kurt taking Mrs. Gurney home from one of his mother’s parties. Mrs. Gurney is thirty-eight, but until I found that out late in the story, I thought she was in her sixties; I’m not sure why I thought that, just maybe my preconceptions of what a woman in that situation would be like, drunk, out of control, and having a young boy escort her home, someone more helpless. Hell, I’m forty-two and can’t imagine having a some kid walk me down a boardwalk to a boat, rowing me to my little slip, undressing me and putting me in bed, filled with water and Vitamin C  tablets. Then again, I’m not rich, and I really don’t drink. Why would I be able to imagine any of this?

Mrs. Gurney laments her life to Kurt on their journey, in between bouts of uncontrollable falling down and vomiting on herself. She’s at the end of her stint as a trophy wife, and, as these things go, she’s about to be replaced, if she hasn’t been already. She’s more than aware of the situation, how ridiculous this is, but that still doesn’t prevent an encounter that I wondered about from early on in the story: What would happen between Mrs. Gurney and young Kurt when they got to Mrs. Gurney’s house and he puts her to bed? This was smelling a lot like a coming-of-age story to me, a perfect set-up for either a Penthouse letter, or something much more interesting, maybe both. To find out what happens, you’ll have to read the story.

This is a great idea for a story and a character, a great conceit, but D’Ambrosio is even more ambitious than this. There’s another layer of complexity added by another storyline. I mentioned that Kurt’s mother was widowed, meaning Kurt is missing his dad. Early on, we know that the dad was a medic in Vietnam, and a bit later, that he killed himself, shooting himself in the head (the public, however, thinks it was a gun-cleaning accident)—okay, maybe this was more connected to today’s gun violence than I thought. In any case, by the end of the story, we find out a lot more about Dad’s suicide, and also get a letter from Dad to Mom, sent from Vietnam after Dad is wounded. We also get the true story of the suicide, which, again, you’ll have to read the story to discover for yourself.

Charles D’Ambrosio has written a lot of books and has gained a lot of notoriety. “The Point” was in The New Yorker originally, one of several D’Ambrosio has placed there, and was later reprinted in Best American Short Stories. Again, I feel bad that so much of his post was eaten up by this Orlando shit, but a blogger’s gotta blog, you know. D’Ambrosio’s the real deal, though, and I’m glad I got to post on him today. Peace.

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2 thoughts on “June 12: “The Point” by Charles D’Ambrosio

  1. Julia

    One of my favorite stories by one of my favorite writers–glad to see it featured here.

    Interesting, you called out something I noticed on a recent re-reading–Mrs. Guerney does seem much older than 38; I figured her to be about sixty as well. It’s the only question I have about an almost perfect story, what feels to me like the misperception of age that only the very young have (eg, the idea that 40 is old old old, which it isn’t really). Maybe the idea that 40 is not old is a modern notion; the era of this story feels bygone (the late 70s? 80s?).

    The adults’ reliance on the youngest and most vulnerable of their number does speak to their desperation–it also makes Kurt older and wiser than his years. But his attachment to the task also has to do with Kurt’s vision of himself as a soldier on a mission (an important way he remains connected to his father). The final few paragraphs give the story an interesting structure and ground the narrative in a quiet, devastating way.

    The world doesn’t have enough fiction from Charles d’Ambrosio. His essays have the same haunting, ephemeral quality in his fiction, so as long as he’s around and publishing, I’ll be reading.

    Nice to remember this gorgeous work at such a sad time.

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    1. Thanks for these thoughtful words, Julia. I agree with all of them. I’ve always liked D’Ambrosio’s work and am glad I finally sat down with a whole book.

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