December 1: “Wild Things I-Ghosts” by Jaimee Wriston Colbert

Good evening, Story366! Welcome to December! Is it crazy that it’s December already? It is. Before long, the semester, and this blog project, will be over, and then it will be January again (if I’m right about how time works). Today was a busy-ass day, but for me to go over what I was busy doing all day would be torturous for you, let alone me, so I’m going to skip it. And because I’m absolutely wiped out tonight, I don’t think I’m going to be providing much of an intro today, no anecdote or topic to lead us into the story. Yes, I think so.

Today I read from Jaimee Wriston Colbert‘s  collection Wild Things, out from BkMk Press (though not as a winner of its Chandra Prize, making it the first book from this press I’ve read that’s not a contest winner). In any case, I’d never read anything from Colbert before—despite her having published all over the place—so heading in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I like to read title stories, I scanned the table of contents and found the title, Wild Things, in two different pieces, “Wild Things I-Ghosts” and “Wild Things II—Migrants,” acting as duel title stories. To note, the Acknowledgements page reveals that these stories weren’t published as “Wild Things,” but as “Ghosts” and “Migrants” instead. Both stories involve the same characters, so it makes sense for Colbert to connect them. So, FYI.

Oh, Ok, one little side bar: Does Colbert pronounce her name like “Bel-Air,” the Stephen Colbert French way (which he used only after he became famous), or does she use the more Anglosized version, rhyming with “Mole Bert?” As I type her name, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to say it in my head.

In any case, I’ve chosen the first “Wild Things” story to write about, as it introduces the characters and establishes the world. That world? Kind of grim. But I’m getting ahead of myself. “Wild Things I-Ghosts” starts with Jones Robert (yes, that’s his name, in that order), a thirteen-year-old kid who is put on a Greyhound by his mom in rural Pennsylvania to visit his dad on the Oregon coast. Jones doesn’t know his dad—he’s never been around—and it’s kind of weird that you’d put a kid Jones’ age on a bus for four days. That’s just the first indication that maybe Jones isn’t living the charmed life. He makes his way across the country unharmed, eating little cans of food his mother packed into his backpack, avoiding some of the things I assume would happen to a kid this age, like not getting back on the bus in time after a stop, or, you know, someone doing horrible things to him because he’s alone. No, that’s not the story Colbert is telling us.

Jones makes it to Oregon spends some time with his dad, who doesn’t seem all that interested in having him around. Jones spends some time on the beach, gets a good dose of his long-lost (who works as a manager of a little travel lodge), and then Dad (“Call me ‘Bruce.'”) puts him back on the bus with no money or food. And then Jones never sees or hears from his father again. Jones does make it all the way to Chicago, eating on the money he’d found in the couches and beds and rooms at the motel. Then he doesn’t eat for the last day and a half, something that would happen at home, anyway, another indication his mother is more or less negligent.

Then the story shifts. After a space break, we get a totally new character, a young woman named Loulie who, we find out after a page or two, is the captive of an older man. The guy’s got her in his trailer and it’s gross and she’s being held in squalor, though the guy’s never hurt her, never touched her—he’s just keeping her there, because, he claims, he’s saving her. We find out that Loulie uses meth, provided by this man, and get the idea that she’s perhaps used it before. Maybe that’s what he’s saving her from, but that doesn’t make sense, then, as he’s still giving it to her. All in all, it’s sad and creepy, this poor young woman held captive by this older guy.

Then we shift back to Jones and figure out that a grown-up version of Jones is the creepy guy holding Loulie  in his trailer. Since that trip out west to see his dad, he’s not had a great life, the featured tragedy being his mother’s death by meth house explosion, the house being the house that Jones grew up in. He lives on that property now, the site of his exploded house, of his mother’s death, in a trailer on the wooded property. It’s where he’s got Loulie, where he’s, according to him, saving her.

From there, the story switches back and forth a couple more times, outlining Jones’ life as Loulie’s captor and Loulie’s life as his captive. I won’t reveal anything further, letting you find something out for yourself. There’s also a whole storyline, diversion, about the titular ghosts, particularly one of Jones’ dead mother, who haunts him. Or he thinks she does. I’ll give one little spoiler: The second story, the “Migrants” one, also features Jones and Loulie, who sadly is still in the former’s charge.

I really liked these two stories from Jaimee Wriston Colbert’s Wildl Things, but want to read more and see what else she does, what other characters are like, what else she writes about. She writes these stories with long, lyrical sentences, one after another, and I’m curious to see if she does that in every story, too. But so far so good on Colbert’s work, on this collection.