Colin Barrett, “The Ways”

150105_r25956-876The three Munnelly kids are dealing with the new routine after their parents die of cancer.

(from The New Yorker, Jan. 5, 2015)

The landline was mewling again in the kitchen, obliging Pell Munnelly, woke now for good, to climb from the cozy rut of her bed and pad downstairs in bare feet. She skimmed her fingertips along the dulled gray-and-lilac grain of the walls, swatted each light switch she passed to feel less alone.

On the phone was the secretary from her little brother Gerry’s school. The secretary was named Lorna Dawes, a pretty blond sap Pell sometimes saw around town. Another fight, Sap said: Gerry and two lads in the basement locker rooms before first class, an argument escalating to blows, and now Gerry was being detained in Sap’s office until such time as someone could come pick him up.

The receiver was hot against Pell’s ear. There was snow in the back garden, a radiant pelt of the stuff with dark, snub-bodied birds dabbing across it. She lifted a foot from the lino, pressed dorsal and toes into the flannelled warmth of her standing calf.

In a way, stories about children raising each other after the deaths of their parents are, if not dystopian, then maybe a little bit post-apocalyptic. Or something? It’s all about people unsuited to tragedy and self-sufficiency trying to make a go of normal life.

The Munnellys have their issues, but it seems like they’re getting the job done. Sure, Gerry’s getting into fights at school, Pell’s not going to school, and Nick is working himself to the bone trying to provide, and those are all signs that something’s got to give. But, for a post-apocalyptic scenario, where everything they knew has been upended or stolen from them, they’re doing okay. (I never got into Party of Five; was that like this?) I get why the story is how it is — brevity sidesteps the schmaltz hazard — but there could also be more. A novel, maybe. These characters are lovely and I want good things for them.

Read this story here. I’m trying to work my way through all these New Yorkers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>