White Angel, presented in this collection, is another example of how this wonderful little exercise of mine presents me with authors of true quality. Michael Cunningham went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “The Hours”. He presents, and Margaret Atwood has presented readers with an emotionally charged story first published in The New Yorker. In the Contributor’s Notes at the back of The BASS, Cunningham explains that the central – focal - genesis- of this story came from an incident that happened in his home town when he was thirteen, and that it had been alive in his head for some 30 years and eventually developed into this story.
It's not that I am beginning to fear these types of stories but I do find myself becoming more anxious after reading them. Stories when children are horribly injured, abused or killed - man, they are difficult.
The reader knows from pretty early in the story that the main character's brother will die.
Reading of the relationship between the brothers serves as a way to strengthen the emotional punch when the brother does die. It hurts – even though you know it’s coming.
Concerning his death and they manner of his death, perhaps this is where most of my fear comes from in these types of stories.
It is a death that comes during an ordinary moment in our lives. Rushing towards a closed sliding glass patio door, bursting through the glass, having a shard of that glass sever the jugular and bleeding out on the living room floor.
An accident. A mistake.
And you reflect on your life and remember all of the instances that you were in a position where you could have been that boy - bleeding out on the living room floor.
And then you think about your son. How he might grow up like you. And how he might be in situations where he would run towards that closed sliding glass patio door...and you can't sleep at night thinking about this. And all of these awful scenes that haven't even happened in his life. But could happen. And are happening right now… in your imagination.
A lump forms in your throat your eyes glass over in the darkness as you set the scene so perfectly –
And you obsess over his safety. You try not to hover but he's so little, so innocent. He needs to be protected. But the years will pass and he will run further down the street from you...away from your protective arms. Towards that closed sliding glass patio door. .
He’s getting older now and faster and faster and faster - always running from you - from your protective arms towards that closed sliding glass patio door. You cry out for him to STOP!
And that’s it exactly – his life, our life – this life - a closed glass patio door. Normally we approach it, slide it to the side and walk into the living room. But there are moments when we – or someone we love runs through that closed sliding glass patio door. And things are never the same after that moment.
Years pass, you’re both be much older. Your hair has grayed out completely - lying in bed - still thinking about him running towards...
And there is no way of every catching him. All you can do is watch. And hope that he slides it to the side.
"If you've never wept and want to, have a child."
Incarnations of Burned Children – David Foster Wallace - of course.