Sunday, June 7, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 23: "The Mail Lady" by David Gates

I love mail. I love sending it, receiving it, blogging about it -- you name it. So when I was composing my Deal Me In roster of stories for this year, I couldn't resist adding this one to the list just solely because of the title. The Queen of Diamonds picked it out for me from The Best American Short Stories 1994.

(The beautiful Queen of Diamonds card was designed by Romanian artist Roxana Ganescu.)

The story is told from the point of view of the main character, Lewis Coley, who has been partially incapacitated by a stroke. He has trouble walking and speaking, but is otherwise intelligent and alert, so he makes for a most interesting main character. All of his frustrations with daily life, his family, and his surroundings come out in the narrative, but he of course can't do much about any of them any more.

Lewis is not the most likeable character, however. He has found religion late in his life, before the stroke, and his religion is clearly important to him -- he treats his life post-stroke as a kind of cross he must bear, although he doesn't understand it. But in spite of his religious conversion, he manages to be a pompous, irritable, self-righteous know-it-all who is more or less alienated from his daughter Wiley, and his wife Alice. He's also embarrassed and over-sensitive about his illness, wondering how Alice can possibly still put up with him. Although he doesn't sound very nice, the reader does learn to sympathize with Lewis and what he is going through, because his interior monologue and memories constitute the entire story.

So how does the mail lady from the title figure into all this? Well, I don't want to give away too much of the story, because I definitely think it's worth your time to find and read. But in short, the mail lady is a Mrs. Laffond, who dresses in mannish clothes (in Lewis' opinion) and drives a big pickup truck that often comes to the rescue of townspeople whose cars are stuck in ditches. Such is Lewis' small and bigoted mind that he suspects Mrs. Laffond of being a lesbian even though she has been married with children and he has no other evidence to go on than what she drives and how she dresses. However, the point of the story seems to be that Lewis is supposed to be paying a penance through his illness that is teaching him humility and his reliance on others -- so you just know Mrs. Laffond is going to come to his rescue at some point in the story. And she does.

I enjoyed this story a lot. It was a long story, but Lewis' interior monologue was so engrossing that it was a relatively quick read.

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

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