I often leave a story with questions I don’t want to ask. For example, I’ve been reading Emily Raboteau’s “Eye of Horus” and have certain complex reactions that go to Emma’s reactions to events and to her voice. In the story, Emma experiences disruptions to her family and personal life that leave her empty and without direction, and she ends her tale waking up to her mother. The direction of the narrative isn’t the problem for me. I simply don’t believe Emma’s telling. It’s difficult to explain this personal reaction. Here’s an example

During the third week of my recovery, the phone rang and my mother answered it. I could hear her from the porch where I sat eating a nectarine, watching the neighbor’s cocker spaniel dig a hole underneath our rhododendron bush. I admired the dog’s single-mindedness.

I have known a hardy rhododendron in my day (should I say this?). This focal knot of an image is nice and clear but I don’t follow why Emily would observe the dog’s action as single-minded. The dog appears busy digging a hole, sure, but Emma is trying to deliver beyond the act. The dog is digging single-mindedly. Or perhaps the dog is digging. There’s a difference. I’m left wondering if she in fact does admire this or whether this is just something to add because the image isn’t enough.

Other areas of the story perplex me. Emma finds herself in a relationship with Poresh, a dashing scholar and ex-student of Emma’s father. He’s not good for her. He says things like, “You’re sulking” and “Don’t be rude.” She describes him this way: “Because of his melodic multi-continental accent and his eyes, which were the color of maple syrup drenched in sunlight and dressed with lashes thick as pine needles, we all had a crush on him . . . ” No, I don’t buy this language: it’s too eager to please. The eyes become sloppy, the pine needles amazingly strange. Yikes.

When the relationship ends, Emma’s sickness is unconvincing. The primary reason develops from the relationship I’ve developed with Emma. Emma seems to want us to know that she’s headed towards a realization that her mother is more than what she allows; the narrative commits to this. But this inevitability feels like this question sounds: “What’s that bob doing in the water?” Answer, “I’m fishing.” Raboteau isn’t quite fishing, but Emma reads too much like a lure. I think this adds up to a story whose character is still deeper than the story permits the reader to go at this point.

Many of the stories in the current StoryQuarterly read this way. They read as too much and unfinished.

4 thoughts on “Disbelief

  1. susan

    It is difficult to comment without having read the story, but some thoughts…

    I do like the dog’s “singlemindedness” in that when one (Emma) becomes scattered by disruption, the ability to function, to find an act that requires attention and to be able to give it that attention is a goal understood, strived for, but unachievable under stress. Maybe you have to have been there.

    As to the rest, I do like the description of Poresh, but taken out of context, it may be too poetic for the story–I really can’t say. If you became that involved with the character of Emma as to wonder about her after the story is done, isn’t that a good thing? Maybe the story isn’t finished, as you say, and I have found that to be true of many of the pieces published in lit journals today–these are what I’ve referred to as the “head-scratchers.” It seems to be a trend.

  2. susan

    BTW, I just finished BASS 2005 and did brief reviews of each story on my website. I was delighted to find (delighted, that is, in contrast to my ongoing reading of four lit journals)that almost each and every story was satisfying. At least three were outstanding in my opinion.

  3. Steve Post author


    I wondered about her as a gesture by the author, not as a fully formed woman in a fiction. I dare say the trend reads like a lesson in one-up-man-ship. Who can be strangest or the most provocative, whichout attention paid to something more intangible.

  4. susan

    Have you read BASS 2005? I think you’d be pleasantly surprised. It truly gave me hope for the short story form. I think I’ll photocopy one of the stories (Hart and Boot) and leave it in your tray. If you get a chance, maybe you can do likewise with the above story and let me read it–or bring it to the Narratives meeting. This may seem like a small point, but as you know, I’ve been bitching about the stories that have been prevalent in the lit journals lately.

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