August 23: “Faulty Predictions” by Karin Lin-Greenberg

Hello, Story366! Today is the day after my birthday, meaning it’s the further point from my next birthday all year. I remember, as a spoiled, obnoxious, narcissistic kid, I’d actually start taking inventory of what I hadn’t received for my birthday but had asked for. I then began making a plan for what I would ask for for Christmas, then what I’d have to wait for the following year to ask for, my greed planned that far ahead. I am a huge collector—you can see this, if you follow this blog and have seen my bookshelves, how I have each collection that I’ve covered so far, in order, behind me as I write. Back when I was a kid, I collected G.I. Joe action figures—the little 3.5-inch ones—and comic books. Basically, a collector always has a high when they get something to put in their collection, but it’s immediately replaced with the need to get the next thing. It’s an awful personality trait, really, to never be satisfied, to never be grateful, to always want more: People probably openly disliked me for it. They still might. As a kid, I got away with it because I was a kid. When I got older, it cost me tons of money, as I got into collecting CDs and Simpson action figures in my twenties and ran up credit card debt doing so.

Now, however, it’s kind of paying off. Those same urges are now applied to Story366, and really, it’s probably why I’ve been able to make it this far in the blog without missing a day. (I’m not sure why this same urge hasn’t translated into me getting on the treadmill every night, but I’m guessing that’s because there’s no brightly-colored, manufactured object at the end of the session.) It’s also why I insist on having a physical copy of any collection before I consider featuring it, because I want to hold the book in my hand, take the picture, then put it on the bookshelf, in order, when I’m done. Authors and presses have offered me pdfs a few times and I’ve turned them down for this very reason. In other words, this horrible trait, the urge to collect, is finally being used (mostly) for good instead of for evil.

Today’s featured author and book is Karin Lin-Greenberg and her Flannery O’Connor Award-winning collection Faulty Predictions, out from the University of Georgia Press. I’ve seen Lin-Greenberg’s work in journals before, but wasn’t sure if I’d read anything. It matters not now, I suppose, especially since I read a few of the stories and absolutely love them. I started with the title story and within a few sentences, I knew I had my target.

“Faulty Predictions” is about this unnamed widow who lives with another widow named Hazel Stump in a small North Carolina town. Hazel is sort of a local psychic, as she’s made some legitimate calls in recent times, including a fire at the local police station; of course, everyone had thought she was ridiculous, but when lightning struck and burned a hole in the center of the building the very night she’d pointed to, her crackpot status was suddenly reconsidered.

But that’s all backstory, which we get a bit into the story. What I love about “Faulty Predictions” is that we start en medias res, Hazel and our protagonist in Hazel’s car, on Halloween night, driving furiously across North Carolina, Hazel having seen a vision a murder at a small college. Legit or not in her home town, Hazel doesn’t have the kind of power to stop a murder across the state, so she grabs her roomie and some costumes—cheapie, generic ghosts, just bedsheets with holes for eyes—and starts driving to a frat costume party in Charlotte with the intention of stopping a deadly stabbing. If that setup isn’t one of the best I’ve ever read, I don’t know.

As this pair of seventy-something ladies traverses the state, Lin-Greenberg really builds their characters. Each of them loved their husbands, of course, and neither could afford to live alone. We find, however, that they’re not exactly close friends, as Hazel is not only an amateur psychic, but kind of a right-wing kook as well. For example, she believes the two black guys living across the street are obviously rappers, and that their pet cat is a serval that might eat her own cat, Millicent. Why does she believe that? Because she read saw on Fox News once that rappers have been buying servals. It’s a funny bit—the protagonist makes it clear that the guys aren’t rappers nor is their cat a serval—but Hazel will have none of it. While she seems to truly have the gift, the sixth sense, she has terrible human instincts. This makes for lots of interesting conflict between the two ladies, which is pretty funny on the surface, but reveals some tragic flaws in Hazel, which come to play later (because that’s how short stories work).

When the ladies get to the college in Hazel’s vision, they attempt to enter the first frat party they find in their bed sheet costumes, but are quickly denied access. Hazel wants to give up, but our hero presses her forward, which soon becomes her main characteristic: Hazel’s foil, Hazel’s motivator. The two set off across campus, Hazel leading and our protagonist prodding, and they—these seventy-something women dressed like Charlie Brown—seek to stop a murder. The story has a long way’s to go from here before resolution, but I won’t go any further in revealing plot, as I can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t ruin it. This story is such a wonder, though, because of these characters, this predicament, and how smoothly Lin-Greenberg guides them through their journey on this dangerous, yet sort of hilarious, mission. She strikes the right balance between humor and suspense and empathy, not once treating these seniors like stereotypes (remember those rapping grannies from eighties commercials?), or predictably. I enjoyed every word of this story and can’t remember the las time I was so flat-out entertained.

All the stories I read in Faulty Predictions are impressive, Karin Lin-Greenberg writing an excellent debut. Yet another great Story366 discovery, one I’ll be glad to get on the shelf, to have it there for whenever I need it (but mainly to know it’s there, with all the others).

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