‘When the Mice Failed to Arrive’ by Gerald Murnane

I once heard Ben Lerner say that an interesting thing about parenthood was a sort of mise en abyme aspect to observing your child. You were observing them, but you were also observing your own parents looking down at you at that age, and observing yourself at that age looking up at your parents, this time with an adult’s consciousness. Many of the best short stories allow us similarly multiple glimpses: because stories are often wilier than longer prose when it comes to evading the drudgery of chronology, they can put us in several places at once. Here, a father watches a storm break as he waits for his asthmatic son to arrive home from school. But the loving father is also a young boy himself, years earlier, terrified both of lightning and his mother’s death. He is also the obsessive young teacher, concealing things from his pupils, and the teenage boy discovering his capacity for cruelty. These leaps through life, together with echoing phrases and images, accumulate into an at times dark exploration of sexuality and an era-spanning sense of melancholy.

Collected in Collected Short Fiction, And Other Stories, 2020, and available to read online at And Other Stories

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