The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a widely used examination tool for assessing personality and psychological profiles by asking for responses to 500-some statements such as, ‘I have often been called a strong personality’ or ‘I have seen things that others thought weren’t really there’.
In this story, Paulson uses the MMPI as a structure into which he insinuates a character sketch. Companies used to give the MMPI to prospective employees as a way of screening out undesirables, and in this case, we realize that Paulson is telling us a story about a very unhappy man struggling with feelings of inadequacy and hatred of his boss:
- He said, “What are you doing here?”
- I didn’t know the right answer.
- He said, “I was testing you and I knew that you followed me here.”
- I thought I had been testing him.
- He and the lady had been drinking together.
- He said, “You are a man now.”
- I said, “I wish you were dead.”
- I have hidden a fugitive and protected him with half- truths.
- Sometimes I wish all this weren’t happening.
I don’t claim that this story ranks on a par with the best of Chekhov or Cheever, but I’d recommend any writer who’s serious about working in the short story form give it a read because it demonstrates what’s possible if you set aside the notion that, short stories have to be prose narratives like something by, well, Chekhov or Cheever.
First published in Triquarterly 29, 1974; included in Extreme Fiction: Fabulists and Formalists, selected and introduced by Robin Hemley and Michael Martone, Pearson Educational, 2004