Welcome to the long weekend, Story366! It’s been a tough week for me—a trial draft of my tenure and promotion dossier was due today and I spent most of last night and today shoving narratives and documents and other artifacts of my life into plastic, three-hole slip covers, then shoving those, in a very particular order, into a giant three-ring binder (which can’t exceed four and a half inches, the instructions warn). All worth it for the next step, but still a lot of work. The final binder isn’t due on the provost’s desk until four weeks from today, but still, I left a lot on the table this week, just getting myself up to speed. I’m more glad it’s Friday than I usually am.
In the midst of all this, I still have to teach my classes and do Moon City Press work, which is nice, as writing essays about yourself and looking for old student emails and Xeroxing your own stories from lit mags is not nearly as fun as teaching. Today, my grad workshop read “The Not-Needed Forest” by Diane Cook, a story I’ve been using in classes for a few semesters now. “The Not-Needed Forest” is a dystopian society story about these boys in this suburban neighborhood who aren’t wanted (or needed) anymore and are literally tossed out, dragged from their homes to some government compound where they are dropped down a metal chute, into an incinerator. The catch is, some of the boys, including the protagonist, find a side hatch in the chute and get away, into a forest, where they are forced to survive, having only each other to get them through (again, literally, more than you know). I love that story, love it because it’s a great story and because it’s a great story to talk about in a class, for various reasons.
Since I’ve read “The Not-Needed Forest” before, it’s not eligible for Story366, like a lot of the stories in Cook’s collection, Man V. Nature, out from Harper (an imprint of Harper Collins I’d not noticed before). I’ve read most of these stories, but since I talked Cook in class today, I was hoping to find something in the book that I’d missed, something to read and write about today. Sure enough, I was able to find a gem (on the first try), a somewhat sexy and fun story, but ultimately a sad one, in “Meteorologist Dave Santana.”
“Meteorologist Dave Santana” starts with our protagonist, Janet, watching Dave Santana relay the weather on the local news, her hand down her pants, her trusty vibrator not far behind. Janet has a thing for Dave Santana (uh, yeah), even though he’s not particularly handsome or dynamic, just a rugged New Englander, like her, guiding their town through the first big storm of the winter. In fact, the storm is so big, Dave Santana is seemingly on air for five straight days, giving updates during commercial-break check-ins, plus the normal newscasts throughout the day. Dave Santana is saving Janet from the storm, which also turns her on, making her rub herself raw all the while.
After this set-up (lots of striking set-ups this week), we find that Janet is not only turned on by Dave Santana, but she’s his next-door neighbor. Janet has in fact tried her best, for some time, to lure Dave Santana into her house, throwing herself at him in every way she can, showing up on her porch in a can’t-stay-closed robe, bending over a lot, telling him how hot she always feels, no matter how cold it is outside. Dave has never taken the bait, but after his five-day affair with the massive storm, Janet pulls out all stops and finally get Dave Santana to come inside, come to her bed. Not that I know Dave Santana or want to pass judgment, but really, as long as he’s straight and able, Janet as going to wear him down—there’s only so many times a guy can say no to an attractive woman begging to sleep with him.
After this post-storm encounter, Dave Santana does his best to avoid Janet, which Janet simply won’t have. This brings us into the next phase of the story, Janet’s amped-up pursuit of making her affair with Dave Santana more permanent. As much as Dave Santana eluded her before, he’s even better at it after they have sex, no matter where Janet tries to confront him: his house, his driveway, where he works. Before long, Janet begins to see the same woman coming and going from Dave’s house. Eventually—months, even years later—and Janet finally is able to confront Dave again, in his back yard, where she finds out that Dave is not only married to this coming-and-going woman, but this woman’s very pregnant, about to give birth to their first child.
It’s at this point that I started to see Janet as even more unreliable than I had when the story began. I mean, she’s unreliable, of course, because she’s so obsessed with Dave Santana and is clearly stalking him. When Cook reveals that Janet had never noticed he’d been married, or noticed a far-along pregnant wife coming and going every day, the level of her delusion took a giant leap. Not only does Janet have a thing for Dave Santana, she’s so sickly obsessed with him, she can’t see the situation for what it is and has gone mental (as if the five-day masturbation marathon wasn’t enough of an indication). I couldn’t take anything Janet said after that point as even remotely true, which added to the complexity of the story, to recognize just what kind of person we were dealing with.
Back to the scene when Janet finds out Dave Santana is married and expecting: At this point, she is able to seduce Dave Santana a second time. Dave Santana is stressed, obviously, and perhaps the stage of his wife’s pregnancy has deprived him of sex. Whatever the case, Dave Santana again follows Janet to her bed, where they have sex together six—6!—times in a short afternoon, Dave Santana indestructible (not even when I was 19 have I ever … never mind …), Janet getting off not only on the fact she’s with her obsession, but she’d gotten him to yell, “I’m Meteorologist Dave Santana!” over and over again as he fucks her, six times in like an hour.
As you might guess, this vigorous encounter isn’t enough to make Dave Santana leave his pregnant wife. Again, after this encounter, Dave Santana is able to slip away from Janet, this time moving from the neighborhood and leaving his job at the local TV station. For someone who stares out the window and waits for a guy to come home, an awful lot goes on without Janet knowing, more indication she’s only seeing what she wants to see, despite what Cook’s third-person narrator is relaying.
The story actually goes on quite a bit from there, as Janet’s stalking of Dave Santana gets more intricate, creative, and intense, moves that involve his wife, their jobs, their child, and some chance encounters. I won’t go into detail, though, leaving you plenty to discover on your own. It’s all worth it, I will attest, as this study of an obsessed person is subtly told, almost enough to make you forget she has serious problems. Okay, just almost forget, but the story reads so quickly (it’s over thirty pages), I barely had time to think too much about technique: I was engrossed. It’s a fantastic story.
Diane Cook’s Man V. Nature is one of my favorite recent collections (and holds up as so, over two hundred collections into Story366 this year), a collection that has so many great stories in it, I can say that even though I hadn’t finished it. Another perk of Story366 is that I can visit books like this one, books I’ve read most of the way through, but for whatever reason, left a story or two unread. This is one I can put on the done pile now, and sadly, I’ll have to bide my time for a fix of something new.