Saturday, May 23, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 21: "Disneyland" by Barbara Gowdy

This week the five of hearts led me to an extremely captivating story from The Best American Short Stories 1989. I chose this story solely because of the title. Who doesn't want to read a story involving Disneyland? But you have probably already guessed that this story has almost nothing to do with Disneyland, hence its intriguing nature.

As the story opens, it's Christmas 1960, and three young sisters -- Linda, Louise, and Sandy -- are getting a summertime trip to Disneyland from their parents. Their dad is taking two weeks off from work, and they're planning to have a great time.

Then paranoia and fear set in about nuclear bombs being dropped on the US, and Dad becomes obsessed with building a fallout shelter in the backyard (which he does), and leading the family through countless drills to see how quickly they can all get to the shelter in case of an attack.

Summertime comes, and Dad announces that the family is going to spend two weeks down in the fallout shelter, simulating what life would be like after a real attack. It becomes quickly and painfully obvious that THIS is the two weeks the family was to have spent at Disneyland, and they are about to experience a Disneyland of a different sort -- a not-very-nice one. The family barely gets settled into the shelter when Louise has her first period. Of course they have no supplies for such a thing, so they have to improvise with rags and such. The family is forced by Dad to follow a strict daily schedule, which includes periods of darkness throughout the day to conserve candles and fuel. This would not be so bad, except that every time the lights go out, Sandy, the youngest daughter, smells an odor that she is convinced is the smell of their dead dog, Checkers, who was buried somewhere in the backyard, and -- who knows? -- maybe the shelter was built near his grave.

Although this sounds like a somewhat horrifying story (because it kind of is one), it was still fascinating to me as a psychological study of the characters. I like stories where you put characters into some weird or difficult situation like this one, and then see what they do.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


  1. I'm certain that I've read this story, it sounds so familiar. Was it ever on This American Life? I do recall really liking it.

    1. Hmmmm, I have no clue. But it seems like something that would fit TAL.

  2. It subsequently became the first chapter of Gowdy's novel Falling Angels: well recommended!

  3. This story has stuck with me for decades!