May 28, 2020: “Wake in the Night” by Laura Krughoff

Thursday ahoy, Story366!

Right when the whole coronavirus thing started, the Karen and I did what everyone else did and decided to binge-watch a show on Netflix. There were a lot of shows we wanted to watch, a couple of which were on Hulu, which, for whatever reason, just doesn’t want to work on our TV. We ditched it. We settled into rewatching 30 Rock, which we hadn’t seen since it aired, and had by no means seen every episode. It’s light, funny, and fast-paced, the perfect choice. We watched all six seasons, at a pace of about two episodes per night, and finished up this past weekend.

We have since started Community, a show that I definitely lost track of after its first two season, and are already in the middle of season 2.

Before that, we watched the entire run of New Girl, which neither of us had seen before. Before that it was Parks & Rec. Before that, a long stint with The Office (which I love, but it bums me out sometimes, how sad these folks’ lives are—that health insurance episode gets not-funny, really quick).

Recently, I happened to catch one of those best-of lists, one from the end of last year, a best-of-the-2000s-so-far kind of thing. Maybe it was in the AV Club, or maybe I found the link at the bottom of some web page. In any case, I saw that the top five network comedies on this list were the five shows I just listed, the five shows we have been watching over the past year.

Makes me wonder about the nature of my viewership, the nature of “critically acclaimed” and how much I pay this kind of thing any heed. Traditionally, I’ve been a fan of what’s deemed good by the powers that be, as I seem to have the eye of a critic. I’ve seen all but two or three of the Top 100 Films from AFI, that list they put out a dozen years ago, and generally understand why those films are considered classics and mostly agree (at least that they’re good movies).

I also remember sitting at a restaurant, over twenty years ago now, with an old girlfriend, her coming across a list in some magazine that featured the Best 100 Albums of All Time. She started the conversation with something like a “Huh, I don’t know any of these albums.” She told me what she was looking at and then we played a game where I tried to see how many I could name. I got like 85 of them without any real problem. She was  stunned and asked how I knew about all those albums, knew what would be on the list—she admitted that she hadn’t heard most of them, and probably hadn’t listened to any of them all the way through. Or any album all the way through—just not what she did.

 I didn’t know what to say. Everyone knew those albums, right? Pretty easy to guess things like Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s and Exile on Main Street and London Calling would be in the top five, and they were (now I can’t remember the fifth). It wasn’t hard to fill in the rest of the hundred, either, with albums I’d listened to two dozen times or more, albums I owned, albums that are always on these lists, lists that made me go out and listen to them two dozen times or more: Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Television, The ClashCarole King, etc.

This little game, which we played while we waited for our food, then throughout dinner when I wanted to keep going, ended in a fight. My then-girlfriend said I was being pretentious, maybe even facetious, smirking when I found out she’d never heard of Patti Smith or  Television or De La Soul or The MC5, treating her like she was some silly child. She accused me of being a pop culture snob. And an asshole.

To this day, I still think back to that fight (like right now) and mark it as one of the tentpoles of our eventual breakup, which was four years and eleven months in the making (in a five-year relationship).

But am I a snob? Am I a bad person? Do my tastes just align with those of the average critic, or am I a slave to what they dictate?

More importantly, what should we watch next?

Today’s post led me to Wake in the Night by Laura Krughoff, a fiction chapbook from Arc Pair Press that came out in 2018. I’d not read Krughoff’s work before today, so it was a good day to put that to an end and see what she does.

The first story is “This Is One Way,” a tale written in second person, some of it imperative, some of it more generally using the you as if it’s just the name of the main character. This story follows the life of Billie (as her husband calls her …), who, again, is referred to as “you” throughout most of the story. Anyway, when I say it follows “the life of” Billie, I mean that it follows her relationship with her husband, all the way from high school until her failing health, some sixty-odd years later. The two meet and marry, they have a kid, he goes to World War II, comes back, they have more kids, they have grandkids, they get sick, and well, that’s most of it. And maybe, just maybe, they also fall in love.

“History of a Hunting Accident” is another story with an interesting style, as every single sentence is a question. Sure, they’re all loaded questions, implying there’s an affirmative to each one in response, but it’s still sets an interesting tone, making the whole thing seem like a rumor, perhaps hearsay, nothing definitive but certainly assumed. The story chronicles the quick marriage of a young man to a very young woman, a marriage that quickly dissolves into abuse and regret. Eventually, a solution is found that fixes the problem, to put everything to rest.

The final story, the titular “Wake in the Night,” is another second-person piece, written in the same style and voice as “This Is One Way.” This piece follows what seems to be a runaway, a young person who is moving through life by breaking into abandoned houses, stopping for a rest, raiding necessities, and moving on. Maybe it’s because of that post-apocalyptic lit class I’m teaching—we’re doing Station Eleven this week—but I couldn’t help but think that this was all taking place in some barren world, most everyone dead, our hero here—whose name and gender are never revealed—perhaps the omega, the last person on earth.

That was quickly dispelled inside the second house, when someone—someone who lives in the house—comes home, hears someone putzing around, and calls out. This sends our hero running, running as far away as they can. So, probably not a dystopian wasteland, which kind of makes this character even more interesting. Why are they randomly entering houses and geting comfy?

Our protatonist discovers a river, along with an overpass bridge, and hears voices coming from down on the bank. Girls’ voices. Upon further discovery, the girls are skinny dipping, their clothes strewn about the shore, all kinds of laughs and splashes afoot. From the cover of bushes, our hero watches, this nubile sight unfolding, headed who knows where.

The fun is put on hold when a biker gang—or, at least, a bunch of guys on bikes—come upon the overpass, see the girls, and stop. Their reaction is less innocent than the dumbstruck voyeurism of our protagonist, and, well, brings a new menace to the story, one that adds depth and perspective, one that switches its gears toward the bleak and too real.

I enjoyed the pieces I read from Wake in the Night, Laura Krughoff’s chapbook of short stories that, firstly, tells its tales in an interesting voice, and secondly, follows some pretty interesting characters. These stories feel like journeys, braving highs and lows, knowing there’s more road ahead, always interesting stops along the way.

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