Some of my most favorite stories and novels are those in which nothing very momentous happens, but all the drama and interest are evoked in the interactions between the characters, and in how those relationships play out. That's not to say I don't enjoy a good action-packed story as well, but the interior drama typically speaks to me much more powerfully. That's the main reason I liked this story, first published in the New Yorker, anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 1986, and served up to me by the 6 of clubs from the Deal Me In deck.
Richard is home from college for the summer, and he has a problem. He owes the college $3000, which he could have paid at the beginning of the year, but instead he frittered it away and now has no way to pay it. His tuition is generally paid for by his father -- his divorced parents cooked up a scheme whereby Richard's financial aid need would be determined by his mother's salary (that of a grade-school art teacher) and not by his father's (that of a high-powered ad executive). Then his father would pay his part of the tuition directly to Richard, who would then turn around and pay it to the school. Except this time, he didn't.
Richard's father knows what happened, and he is urging Richard to tell his mother. In the meantime, he refuses to pay any more money, and tells Richard to go get a job and sit out the next year until he can pay the college the money he owes. Richard, of course, cannot bring himself to tell his mother, and so begins a tense waiting game in which he's sure she'll find out, talk to his father, etc. He's paranoid about it, and this drives the story forward.
The story ends with Richard and his mother attending a fourth of July celebration in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she has taken a summer job at her old school to help pay Richard's college bill so he can return to school in the fall. He's guilty about this, and about not telling his mother the real reason he owes the money, but even on the ride home, when she tells him pointblank that he can tell her everything, he doesn't manage to tell her.
Like I said, it's not a thrilling story event-wise (you're probably yawning right now) but the interactions between the characters -- what they say and what they don't say to each other -- are fascinating, and they turn this little tale into a highly entertaining and thought-provoking story. I enjoyed it immensely.
The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
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