Granta-122Callan Wink’s “One More Last Stand” was first published in Granta 122: Betrayal.

Callan Wink first came to my attention when he published his first story in, of all the lucky places, The New Yorker. “Dog Run Moon” proved to be an exciting glimpse at what Wink had to offer. Then around a year later, another of his pieces showed up in the magazine. “Breatharians” was one of my favorite pieces in the last year. Now Granta has also picked him up. He is apparently working on both his first collection of short stories and his debut novel.I’m sad to say that of the three I’ve read so far, “One More Last Stand” is the weakest. For me, it lacked the vitality of the others and came off feeling more like an amateur work, which is not surprising since Wink is young and just getting his stuff out to us. I still enjoyed the story about a deluded couple, however, and am finding the entire Betrayal issue a lot of fun.

“One Last Stand” begins strangely. A man named Perry pulls over at a rest stop and dons a cavalry uniform. He then drives to a hotel, checks in, goes to his room, takes the uniform off, and calls his wife. It turns out that Perry is part of a group of reenactors. He’s General Custor, and each year for a week he reenacts Custor’s last stand, dying a few times every day. When he strolls into town — or, rather, when he drives his small car into town — he assumes the persona. People call him the General.

The night before the first reenactment, the General, dressed in his duds, gets a knock on the door. He opens it to find Kat Realbird dressed in full regalia, and they do what they do every year; “it was like a return home after a long journey fraught with uncertainty and peril.”

Perry and Kat have been doing this for seven years. In the reenactment itself, Kat is the Indian who eventually jumps down on the General and kills him. Other than this week of real sex and pretend violence, they apparently have no contact at any other time of year.

‘I think about you,’ he said. ‘Back home at work I sometimes put on my uniform and imagine this. I’ll spend whole days downstairs in my office, in full dress. I do conference calls in my hat and gloves and cavalry pants. It makes me feel closer to you — to this.’

‘Kat, did you hear me?’

‘Yes.’

‘And? Do you think of me? During the year, in your real life?’

‘I do. But it doesn’t change anything, so I try not to.’

Perry tries to talk about this more. At seven years, they’ve been doing this for longer than he has been married, so he asks, “Doesn’t that beg the question: which is the marriage, which is the affair?”

Of course, no matter what Perry says, he’s cheating on his wife. It becomes more acute when we learn that his wife has breast cancer, a fact Perry eventually tells Kat. And, if possible, the betrayal becomes even more acute as the week passes and Kat makes a request Perry was not prepared for:

‘Let’s just do it like normal people tonight. If you don’t mind.’

‘Normal people? I thought you liked what we do.’

‘General, you know I do. It’s just tonight, I don’t want to be your Indian tonight. How about we do something different? How about you pretend I’m your wife? How about we do it like that?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Please? What does she wear to bed? How does she like it?’

‘I don’t know, Kat. It feels like a wrong thing. Dishonest.’

The “what is real” concept is not the central theme of the story, thankfully; rather, it is central to the characters betrayal of themselves. We readers know exactly what is real. Perry and Kat do not have a real relationship. Their sexual encounters are shielded by assumed personalities. Perry is no General Custor, a fact not lost on many of the people in town who don’t like his annual visits with Kat. They see through the facade, and this year they won’t sit idly by.

Despite my disappointment that it didn’t measure up to the two stories he’s published before, “One More Last Stand” is a nice story, and I continue to be impressed by Wink and will continue to seek him out.

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By |2013-03-13T13:21:58-04:00March 13th, 2013|Categories: Callan Wink|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. David August 14, 2018 at 7:25 am

    Five years on you get your first comment! Patience is rewarded!
    .
    Ok, so I read this story right after reading Wink’s “A Refugee Crisis”. The latter was the first thing I read by him and “One More Last Stand” was easy to access online, so it became the second Wink story I read. I will be interested to read other stories of his to see if, when I do, I come to the same conclusion as you did, Trevor, that this is not as good as those others, but I did quite like this story.
    .
    You say, “The ‘what is real’ concept is not the central theme of the story, thankfully; rather, it is central to the characters betrayal of themselves. We readers know exactly what is real.” But I think this does not quite capture what Wink is really writing about here. The idea is less to question what is real from what is not than it is to point out how much performance and even role playing goes on in our everyday experiences and interactions with people. Perry and Kat have this pretend relationship that is made more pretend by the role playing they do, but Perry is right that it is a relationship that started before either of their marriages and so there is something more real to it than just an affair. At the same time, Perry’s relationship with his wife is another role he plays, with some inauthenticity as he lies to her about what he is doing to keep his relationship with Kat from her. So to me the story isn’t about the question of separating what is real from what is not. It is about the degrees and ways that all relationships between people have some degree of inauthenticity and performance. The discussion of the book (which, while unnamed in the story is obviously a reference to The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs) and the customs of Hasidic Jews is another reference to the idea that all lived life is in part a performance. And, of course, the idea at the end of the ceremony to break the arrow to take away the power the person who shot it has over Perry is again another sort of performance.
    .
    Reading this story back-to-back with “A Refugee Crisis” probably made me more aware of the themes that they seem to have in common. It does look like there is a strong thread here that indicates a narrative interest of Wink’s that now, five years after writing “One More Last Stand”. When I check out some of his other stories I will be curious to see if this is a theme that appears in them as well or if this is more an idea he only explores occasionally.

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