This week The New Yorker brings us another story from one of the preeminent short story writers of the last — gulp! — forty years (that’s right, Boyle’s first collection, Descent of Man was published in 1979). I think Boyle is a great writer, and I usually am pulled deeply into his work, yet I don’t think I’ve ever quite connected with it. I don’t think I’m alone based on the discussions Boyle’s work has inspired here at The Mookse and the Gripes.
Nevertheless, I was excited to see his name pop up when I looked at what the magazine was offering this week. I still find his work, at the very least, interesting and usually fun, even if it doesn’t hit me in any deeper way. And that’s okay! And . . . perhaps it will be different this time!
“I Walk Between the Raindrops” certainly starts with Boyle’s strengths: sentences that roll forward, pulling you with them; a narrative voice you could listen to for hours, in part because he’s a bit off; an interesting setting that is not somewhere in New York City. Here are the first two paragraphs:
This past Valentine’s Day, I was in Kingman, Arizona, with my wife, Nola, staying in the Motel 6 there, just off the I-40. You might not think of Kingman as a prime location for a romantic getaway (who would?), but Nola and I have been married for fifteen years now, and romance is just part of the continuum — sometimes it blows hot, sometimes cold, and we certainly don’t need a special day or place for it. We’re not sentimentalists. We don’t exchange heart-shaped boxes of chocolates or glossy cards with manufactured endearments inside, and we don’t go around kissing in public or saying “I love you” twenty times a day. (To my mind, couples like that are always suspect — really, who are they trying to fool?) Besides which, we were there to pay a visit to Nola’s father, who’s in his eighties and living in a trailer park a mile down the road from the motel, which made it convenient not only for seeing him but for strolling into Old Town, where there are a handful of bars and restaurants and the junk shops my wife loves to frequent, looking for bargains.
Were we slumming? Yes, sure. We could have stayed anywhere we liked, but this — at least when we’re in Kingman — is what we like, and if it’s not ideal, at least it’s different. The local police creep through the parking lot in the small hours, running license plates, and once in a while you’ll wake to them handcuffing somebody outside one of the rooms, which is not a sight we see every day back in California. Plus, there are a couple of lean white bums living in the wash just behind the place, and they sometimes give me a start, looming up out of the darkness when I step outside at night for a breath of air, but nothing’s ever happened, not even a request for spare change or a cigarette.
From Boyle’s interview with Deborah Treisman (here), it appears this story will have four subplots, and they do make me wonder if I’ll also see some of the things I don’t care for in Boyle’s fiction, things that can make the stories feel a bit half-baked in terms of theme.
I’m anxious to see how the story plays out, though, and anxious to read your thoughts! Feel free to share them below!