“Back Then”
by Mary Grimm
from the June 24, 2019 issue of The New Yorker

This is the summer of throwbacks or revivals or however you want to put it. I love seeing lesser known authors, who, to me, seemed to disappear, back on the page. This week, new fiction from Mary Grimm. She published her first piece in The New Yorker in 1986. Over the next ten years she published another six stories in the magazine, but this week’s is her first since 1996. I can’t find much more information about Grimm’s work online. It appears she has one collection of short stories and one novel to her name, but I can find only find the stories for sale. It looks like she’s been working on a new novel, but I’m not sure how long that’s been in the works. If any of you have any extra information about her work, I’d love you to share in the comments below.

This story fits nicely in the official cross into summer, particularly my own summer. It’s about a series of summer holidays to the same Lake Erie cottage. Though this story takes place during a series of August Perseid showers, I myself have just returned from such a holiday and so feel this story was published now for me.

After so many years meeting family in the same place away from home, away from the routine, away from normal life, the place can take on a unique quality that mixes time. I’m excited to read this story and see what Grimm is doing here with Kathleen, a young girl growing up over the years. My own four boys are growing up before my eyes on these trips, as they gain experience, seek independence, and start to see a bigger picture. This story is particularly about females, and I’m glad for that as well.

Here is how it starts:

Every year the Perseids came, splashing down from the top of the sky, and every year we begged our parents to let us go down to the lake by ourselves to see them. Every year they said no, and we sat on the narrow beach at the end of the ferry parking lot, our parents, my sister and I, and some of our girl cousins, whichever of them had come with us that year. The lake would be black, and the sky blacker. If there were waves, the curl of the foam was gray. The summer colors of our clothes were bleached out as if we were in an old movie, and we sat there waiting for the next shooting star, the next, the next. We’d read about the Perseids myth in the encyclopedia, but we pretended that they were sisters instead of brothers. The water sucked and slopped against the rocks. Sometimes there was the low rumble of thunder or the hum of a motorboat, its tiny lights crossing far out from west to east. Some years there were only twenty or thirty falling stars for our trouble, but other years they came hard and fast, as if someone were throwing them at the lake like handfuls of pebbles. In our private mythology, this meant that something wonderful was going to happen, that there would be a marvel, if we were ready to see it.

Please let me know what you think below!

Liked it? Take a second to support The Mookse and the Gripes on Patreon!