Friday, August 7, 2009

The Gray

Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 7.

The first story mentioned in Short Story Month, the book that more or less set this frenzied project off, was Aaron Gwyn’s “The Gray.” When I found it online, I was quickly lured away by the Esquire Fiction Contest, which closed a few days ago. It was interestingly pitched: you could pick one of three titles they offered and write away (up to 4,000 words). It was handsomely prized. So I was starting to get really motivated about putting something appropriate together and sending it on time, but, of course, there it was in the fine print: void in Puerto Rico. For some reason. Alas.

So today I came back to Aaron Gwyn’s story “The Gray,” published in Esquire. You can read it here. It was recommended by the editors of the literary journal Hobart (which pulls off an interesting combination of print and online material).

“The Gray” is about a bar fight and its aftermath. When I began reading, the story was off to a choppy start. The first paragraph or so was filled with shards of sentences and commas that were distracting and sometimes centrifuged me out of the story. In the third paragraph you get this, describing the guys’ long-standing habit of fighting till they dropped: “there must have been a time when it was fun. If there were women, the women would watch and they’d talk about it on the interstate driving home.” Who would talk about it, the men or the women (as imagined by the men)? It’s ambiguous.

Then the story rights its course, as it follows Murray, one of the men involved in the fight, while he wonders if he caused serious damage to the others, meaning whether he murdered one of them. He flips through the local news, he asks his friend Shorty. The story has a better pace by then. Murray puzzles over why he worries about this, if he’s gotten in dozens of fights before. His body tells him something is wrong: “And if the man was dead, the blonde boy he’d kneed, if his spine had snapped and he was paralyzed, if he’d expired, how would his body know when he didn’t?” (Another ambiguous sentence, by the way, since the last “he” comes after “he” was used for both Murray and the blonde boy; a tourniquet made of “he himself” would probably fix it.)

In any case, this worry transforms Murray in ways I couldn’t describe without coming out and ruining the story for those who haven’t read it, so there. I enjoyed it. (I wasn’t very convinced by the bit about graying, even though the part about the silver sheen worked better). Okay, the themes, the nitty-gritty of the tale, all that, certainly were tailored to belong to a men’s magazine like Esquire. And the story could’ve used some trimming and bolt-tightening. But it was a fun enough read.

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