August 26, 2020: “The Path of Most Resistance” by Russell Wangersky

Hey there, Story366!

Today I taught in-person classes for the first time since early March, since before the spring break that lasted for five months. My classes are blended and the seated portions are small, just half the students, once a week, seven total sessions for each student across the entire semester. Seven of eleven showed up for the first class, then three out of eleven for the second. I introduced myself, we talked about how weird the world is, and then they got busy on some writing exercises. They seemed to enjoy being there and expressed a definitive hope that in-person teaching would continue, even if it just means them working on some on their laptops while I lurk behind my desk. I think the human contact is enough to lure them to campus, and me joking around and being really laid back is probably going to keep them coming.

Nobody has any idea how long this is going to last, as my school’s positive rate is already higher than some of the other schools that have already retreated back to online-only learning. I’m sure the administrators are meeting right now—no matter when you’re reading this, I think it’s possible—discussing what they’re going to do, at what point they pull the plug. My building was practically abandoned today, most of my colleagues opting for online-only. I never got within ten feet of another person. I wore my mask and sanitized my hands a dozen times, each class period. I didn’t talk to anyone outside of my students and was in and out in less than an hour each time. If this is how it goes, I feel safe going to campus, being there for those students who want it. If this is how it goes, I hope we get to keep doing it.

When it comes down to it, though, our fate is in the students’ hands. Faculty, staff, and administration are being careful, insisting upon the utmost caution, keeping apart from each other. It’s what happens outside the classroom, in the dorms, the Greek houses, and in the students’ private lives that’s going to determine our future. I want to believe that students know this, and that this positive tests are largely incidental, the unavoidable consequence of cohabitation.

Like everything else in 2020, we shall see. And I’ll keep you posted.

Today I read from Canadian author Russell Wangersky‘s 2012 collection, The Path of Most Resistance, out from the House of Anansi Press. This is definitely the first time I’ve read Wangersky’s work, so again, Story366 does its job, finds me another new author. Good job, Story366! An extra GB of RAM for you tonight!

The first story in this book is “Rage,” about a pharmaceutical rep, Ian, who’s just found out he has cancer, melanoma, but has kept his job. His life has been turned upside down by his diagnosis, so he’s wanted his work to remain the same, to steady him. Between appointments with doctors—both his clients and his own—he drives around, his mind occupied by how people drive and why accidents happen. He thinks he’s figured it out, paring it down to human error and cockiness. Of course, Ian himself ends up in an accident by the end—Chekov’s accident, I guess—but considering what he’s got to think about, it’s understandable.

“Armenia” is my favorite of the three I’ve read, the story of Tom, who has moved in with Ray. Ray is short for Raisa and their relationship is based on passion. From their first date on, Ray has consumed Tom, been a voracious, eager, and satisfying lover, unlike any Tom has ever had before. Within a couple of months, he gives up his own little place and moves in with Ray. The one hitch in their relationship is the mold, dark spots growing all over, but most pointedly the Armenia-shaped patch right above the toilet. Tom wants to wash it and all the mold away before they get seriously ill. Ray, however, is a self-proclaimed Buddhist, and looks at the molds as living things, and therefore, earning their right to live and grow, unhindered. Tom becomes obsessed with the stain, with this aspect of his relationship, but before he can act, his world is pulled out from under him in a somewhat unexpected twist.

The title story, “The Path to Most Resistance,” is an epistolary story. This one’s told by Nell, writing to Sara, a woman she believes is, or at least was, her girlfriend. The letter’s written from Mexico, and, well, as the format implies, Nell is in Mexico and Sara is not.

After some lovely description of the Mexican setting and a rundown of what Nell’s been up to, we get an idea of why Nell is writing to Sara and why her tone is so abrasive. Sara and Nell used to share an apartment, after living together two years in college, and were best friends … plus. Together, they survived bad times, the typical-post college growing pains. Part of this involved them sharing a bed, though it’s implied it was because of lack of space and heat—no direct reference to anything sexual is ever mentioned.

In any case, Nell reveals this long-time plan the women had, to one day travel to Mexico, to the exact spot from which Nell has written her letter. Nell has made it there, but Sara has not.

What got in the way? Not too hard to guess, but it’s a guy, a guy with whom Sara sleeps, and not because of space or temperature.

It’s at this point, more or less, that Nell becomes super-unreliable, that perhaps her vision of Sara & Nell is not the most accurate vision of Sara & Nell. Once you realize that, then the story’s blanks are filled in. Wangersky is artful in this pursuit, too—he withholds info at just the right pace, giving us the proper details at the proper time. I really like this story and am glad I have another epistolary piece in my arsenal, and a good one at that.

Glad to have spent some time with The Path of Most Resistance today, and glad to have become familiar with Russell Wangersky, with what he does. All I can expect from a Wednesday, so I’ll call it a good day.

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