Happy Monday to you, Story366! Today I’m starting a second week of Bowling Green State University MFA program alumni, the first of which I did back in February. I have compiled fourteen more books since then—including several new releases, as it’s been another banner year for BG—so I’ll have room for a third week, probably in early December. That’s going to bring some real attention to people I like, to a program of which I’m fond.
This week’s first Falcon book comes to us from my longtime friend Rebecca Meacham. Rebecca had graduated from Bowling Green a couple of years before I arrived in 1995 and was working as an instructor in the composition department, but I interacted with her most as Fiction Editor of Mid-American Review. Rebecca was a good model for me as a teacher and an editor, and outside the office, we hung out, spent many a late night in revelry. Rebecca left BG to get her PhD at Cincinnati the year I graduated, leaving the opportunity for me to move up to Fiction Editor. While I was working at BG and MAR for the next fifteen years, Rebecca earned her PhD, got a job at Wisconsin-Green Bay, and published her collection Let’s Do as a winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize from the University of North Texas Press.
I read a couple of stories from Let’s Do today, including the title story, about a lawyer, who has lost four children, taking one last stab at a successful career, at saving her marriage, at saving herself. I was a bit more drawn to the moral dilemma presented by “The Assignment,” however, so tonight I’ll write about it.
“The Assignment” is about this guy, Carter, whose girlfriend, Jen, asks him to do her a favor: She wants him to attack her one day when she’s out for a run. Jen, a fitness-freak marathoner, was attacked one night on a run, a man chasing her down in his car, grabbing her by her ponytail, ready to do worse when some strangers happened upon the scene. Jen has been training and wants another test: Enter Carter’s assignment. Jen has gone so far as to give him her itinerary, her running paths, what she’ll wear on any given day. This all comes in the first couple pages of the story, plot incited.
Carter, being a decent and intelligent and sensibleguy, knows there’s no way to win in this scenario. All kinds of things can go wrong if he attacks her, from someone spotting them and coming to her aide, to Jen herself reacting and kicking his ass; more than that, though, it’s just wrong, he knows, that this is not the way for Jen to exorcise her demons. On the other hand, she keeps pressuring him and if he doesn’t do this for her, he might lose her. The rest of the story is Carter examining himself, exploring this existential question, trying to make the right decision (which, if it exists, is something other than yes or no).
Along the way, Carter learns a lot about himself and we learn a lot about Carter. One scene depicts him at work, where he makes low-budget local commercials, often filming an ex-porn star, Charity, who fumbles with knives (to show how obsolete knives are) in food processor ads. Charity, as a multiple-incident victim of sex crimes, gives a unique perspective on the Jen attack issue. Later on, though, we get an even more revealing snippet from Carter’s past, one that pegs him as a sex criminal in his own right. He’s not a rapist or even a mugger, but hey, a sex criminal is a sex criminal. At that point, late in the story, everything changes. A sly move by Meacham, perfect rate of reveal, Carter exposed.
I won’t give anything else away about the plot—i.e., whether or not Carter goes through with the attack—as you’ll need to find out for yourself. I will say that Meacham’s stories—all over twenty pages—are long enough for her to take drastic turns, for her to explore her characters in full depth. That title story is really three different stories in one, while “The Assignment” takes a simple question, a simple dilemma, and uses it to expose the innermost workings of a protagonist. Meacham leaves no stone unturned, you could say, her getting the most out of each and every creation, each and every person and scenario.
Rebecca Meacham leaves room for comedy, tragedy, and a complex combination of both in the stories in Let’s Do, entertaining and challenging to the end. I am really proud to know this writer, this talent, a great way to kick off the week.