Friday, January 30, 2009

Revenge Scenarios

Like everyone else, I enjoyed Bailey White's first collection of short stories, Mama Makes Up Her Mind. I didn't like her next collections as well, but her writing is hard to object to in any big, excited way. The newest collection (Nothing With Strings) is a bit more depressing, in general, but I love one story in it, "The Progress of Deglutition." One of the things I like about it is that I didn't know the word "deglutition" until after I'd read the story, and it's like a punch line.

Another thing I like about this story is that it made me think about someone I met in my first semester of college. I came into a dorm room and discovered this person, named Ann, holding forth to an audience of other first-years about how she got revenge on an ex-boyfriend. The part I remember is that she licked mini-marshmallows and stuck them all over his car. Later when we got to be friends and roommates, I was actually involved in another of her revenge scenarios. Since the ex-boyfriend didn't know my voice, I called him and left a message purporting to be from the clinic where Ann was supposedly being treated for an STD. I don't think she does this anymore, but I'm not sure. We've lost track of each other over the years.

The fun of listening to Ann's stories was restored to me, though, by reading about how "Sally's husband Dave told her that their marriage felt like a snake around his neck, and he wanted a divorce" and how "it took Sally completely by surprise....finally she said in a tiny, feeble voice, "what kind of snake?" Sally moves out, and is passed around by her relatives until she ends up wiith Aunt Ethel, who traps rats. On their way to let a rat go, she drives by her house and sees Dave inside in an intimate pose with a woman as young as she was when they met, as young as their daughter. Guess what Sally does with the rat.

Isn't that just the story to cheer up a cold winter's day? You're welcome.


paj said...

Today's newspaper carried a story of 3 young women who invited an acquaintance to a party. Instead of taking her to the (nonexistent) party, they drove her into the woods and left her there in her party dress and one shoe (she lost the other in a struggle when it became apparent to her she was being dumped). The temperatures were in the teens. More than an hour passed before she was able to get help. She's facing possible amputation of some of her toes. The three young women who dumped her have been charged. They say their actions were revenge for the young woman filing an insurance claim.
Revenge stories are usually better in works of fiction.

Jeanne said...

Well, yeah. Both in fiction and real life I'm fond of little acts of revenge that are kind of ineffectual. Like leaving our trapped mice outside a certain house at the local college.

Harriet said...

I used to know someone like that too, although it was after college. The story I remember best was the revenge she took on an ex boyfriend who was very house proud by writing obscene things on his lawn in weed killer in the dead of night. Come to think of it, her name was Ann too. I wonder if it's the same Ann.

Jeanne said...

"My" Ann had a very southern accent. She would have stood out in your neck of the woods!

lemming said...

Big difference between a dead rat on the doorstep and leaving someone to freeze...

Jeanne said...

Oh, the rat is still alive.

The aunt says "we have to turn him loose way out from civilization. A rat like this can travel ten miles in a day and destroy an entire household in one night." Sally lets him out and "across the strip of lawn he ran, sleek and fast, and disappeared under the White Emperor camellia at the corner of the front steps."

Don't you like the way the author shows that the husband can't possibly appreciate getting the house just by saying the name of the camellia bush in the last sentence of the story?

Ron Griggs said...

This post and the subsequent commentary has me musing on the revenge fantasy vs. revenge in reality. The mildest revenge fantasy is that pleasure we get when (afterwards) we think up the perfect response to a painful conversation. How many times have you derived rueful pleasure from replaying the conversation with what you should have said--the remark that skewers the boorish, rude, thoughtless person on the other side?

No question that revenge fantasy (and revenge in literature and the movies is really revenge fantasy) is a pleasure in which most of us flawed humans indulge. Is it good for us? Do too many of us allow the fantasy to become reality?

There is a catharsis in revenge fantasy, I think, if it allows us to put the situation behind us. But if we don't escape the situation, the fantasy becomes obsession.

My favorite of Charles Williams' novels is Descent Into Hell, in which he deals with the problem of obsession with pleasurable fantasy (among other things.) Read it, if you haven't. Re-read it, if you have.