Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 1.
Let’s start off the month with a story I really enjoyed. It’s called “Raymond’s Run,” by Toni Cade Bambara. One of the tricks here will be to give a sense of what a story is about without fully ruining the plot for anybody who hasn’t read it. I’ll try to find online versions of the stories I comment on, so that people can follow the link and read them if they wish. Mind you, these entries will be short.
“Raymond’s Run” has been anthologized quite a few times. (In fact, you can read it here, courtesy of Google Books.) I read it in a really interesting book called Contemporary Fiction: 50 Short Stories Since 1970, edited by Lex Williford and Michael Martone and published by Touchstone in 1999. There’s a second edition out, which really has so many new stories it’s worth having both books. I’ll be picking from Contemporary Fiction a few times during this month. I’ll be reading new stories every day, but I’ll try to stick to the best I’ve read this year.
Bambara’s short story deserves the attention it’s gotten in several anthologies. It’s a good story: fun, quick, snappy, short. It’s a story about growing up, gender roles, sports. The first-person narrator is Hazel Elizabeth Dorah Parker, nicknamed Squeaky, a young girl who takes care of her brother Raymond (he is said to be “not right” and to have a big head: it may be hydrocephaly). Squeaky takes her running very seriously, and is very confident of her abilities (“I always win cause I’m the best,” she says at one point). She is about to run a fifty-yard dash on May Day; her main opponent is a newcomer, Gretchen. There is much hype about the race, and the tensions built around them give an interesting momentum to the story.
The language is tight and agile, fitting for a girl her age and packed with humor and emotions. The last line is good, referring to the narrator looking at Gretchen, while they smile at each other after the competitive race: “We stand there with this big smile of respect between us. It’s about as real a smile as girls can do for each other, considering we don’t practice real smiling every day, you know, cause maybe we too busy being flowers or fairies or strawberries [in shows and pageants] instead of something honest and worthy of respect… you know… like being people” (52).