Letter 18: “Good People”

Dear Mr. Wallace,

Let me start by asking, what happened with this one?  “Good People” has got to be the most optimistic of your stories that I have read so far.[1]  No sociopaths, no strung out druggies, not even a jilted lesbian lover.  We do have a couple facing the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy, but this story comes about as close to the “wrapped up with a pretty little bow” cliché as I’d imagine your stories get.  So I say, “kudos” for that.  It was a rather refreshing surprise.

I must admit that when I began the story, I had a fear that I was reading a reinterpretation of “Hills Like White Elephants.”  The scenario is quite similar – a young couple finds themselves expecting a child, which forces them to deal with the important issues of their relationship – but the details are a bit different.  The biggest and most intriguing difference is that they young couple on “Good People” are very devout Christians.[2]  So this surprise turn of events is not only a test of their relationship, but a test of their faith.

This crisis is not only the subject of Lane’s thoughts, but is illustrated in the narrative structure itself.  The prose is all over the place.  We are inside Lane’s head as he sorts out his thoughts and feelings, then we are looking at the grass, then remembering his mother’s words, then taking notice of the older gentleman standing near the picnic table in the distance.[3]  The seemingly disjointed narrative mirrors the disjointed thoughts of Lane A. Dean, Jr.

But what really struck me about this story is that it’s not really about an unwanted pregnancy.  It’s about the fear of facing the truth.  Lane and Sheri, like the man and woman of “Hills” have talked all around this issue.  They have prayed about it and lost sleep over it.  But they – or at least Lane – have not really allowed themselves to come face-to-face with the truth of the situation.  And now, while sitting on this picnic table in the park, they must finally do so.

This mistake – or sin in their minds – has forced Lane into a crisis of faith.  Everything he once thought he knew to be true is called into question.  Is his God truly one of compassion and love?  Or are the fires of hell waiting for Lane because of this sin they have committed?  He has sought counsel and reassurance from his pastor and Christian friends, but his guilt calls his faith into question.

Most importantly his feelings for Sheri are thrust to the forefront of his mind.  Up to this point, he was unsure of his feelings.  He likes her.  He has been intimate with her.  But does he love her?  He has been afraid of facing the truth of his feelings, and this unborn child has now forced him to face that fear. 

As Sheri takes his hands in hers at the end of the story, Lane is confronted by those fears and those feelings.  And it is the tenderness of her touch that gives him the gentle nudge to face those fears head on.  He must be honest with her, but more importantly he must be honest with himself.  He must take a leap of faith, if you will, and embrace his faith in a loving God and his love for the future mother of his child.  It seems that before now, Lane has lived in a sort of detachment from the reality of his world.  His faith and his feelings for Sheri have all been in the abstract.  But now there is no escaping their reality.  Is God truly loving and compassionate?  Does he actually love Sheri?

Fortunately, as he is confronted with those questions, he has a loving hand to hold.

[1] Granted, my reading of your fiction is somewhat limited to the first three stories in Girl with Curious Hair, a couple of independently published stories, and the first 50 pages of Infinite Jest.

[2] I must say this is probably one of the most genuine depictions of Christian young people I have seen in recent fiction.  So often those of faith are relegated to caricatures or stereotypes.

[3] By the way, what’s up with that guy?  He’s just standing there.  Is he like the Dr. Eckelberg billboard in Gatsby; the eyes of God watching over this young couple?

1 thought on “Letter 18: “Good People”

  1. Pingback: The Pale King – Chapter 6 | Letters to DFW

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s