Monday, March 21, 2011

Worth Reading

Having critiqued a short story not my own in a recent post, I thought I'd introduce a story I thought was terrific. It's titled "Tomorrow People"; I can't remember the author's name, unfortunately, but who really cares? I'm interested in stories, not authors. And you can look it up yourself if you're so inclined.

"Tomorrow People" is set in 2040-ish, but it's not science fiction. Oh, there were a few offhand references to technologies that don't currently exist, but that's just for flavor. The real story concerns the narrator, a pre-teen boy whose college-aged sister was killed when a terrorist nuclear bomb destroyed the city of San Francisco. His parents and older brother don't talk about her, and they've kept no images of her; when he sees an old picture of his parents on his dad's laptop and asks one too many questions about it, thinking his sister might have been the photographer and he might be able to catch a glimpse of her in the sunglasses his mom is wearing, his dad scrubs the picture from his hard drive. So this is definitely a post-9/11 story, a tale of memory and loss, or of lost memory.

The story takes a turn when a neighbor, a former soldier in the ongoing war against those who destroyed San Francisco, brings home a Muslim boy who has lost his own family in the war. The narrator, who committed an unthinking act of anti-Muslim prejudice the year before--spraypainting epithets on the toilet stall of a mosque his school visited--wants nothing to do with the new arrival, and neither does the Middle Eastern child want to make friends with Americans. But the child's adoptive father keeps trying to get the two together, the narrator's mother wants her son to atone for his act of the year before, and the two are forced into an awkward, tension-filled meeting.

If this sounds a bit like the story I disliked, "Summer, Boys"--two pre-teen boys making friends over the summertime--well, it sort of is. But it's a far superior story in every way: unpredictable, far less mannered in its writing style, and about something that strikes me as far more significant, or at least bigger, than that of two boys coming of age. I won't spoil the story by telling anything more about it; I'll just say it's inspired me to try a story of my own that I've had in mind for a while but not, shall we say, in heart. If anything ever comes of that, I'll let you know. Either way, it's always nice to know that there's fiction out there that's not just well-written but well worth reading.

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