Monday, June 22, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 25: "Customs of the Country" by Madison Smartt Bell

This week, the four of hearts took me to an excellent story by Madison Smartt Bell, from The Best American Stories 1989.

The unnamed narrator of "Customs of the Country" is a young woman trying to get her life back on track. She does not succeed in the way that she hopes, but she does succeed. She's trying to regain custody of her young son, Davey, after losing him due to her drug addiction. She has cleaned up, and it's been two years, and she's ready to get him back. So to prove that she's ready, she gets a waitressing job at a truckstop, and rents a small apartment in a not-very-prosperous part of town. She does her best to make the apartment clean and homey, despite the nightly spouse abuse that goes on next door (always ending with a body hitting the wall hard enough to knock her pots and pans off the kitchen wall).

As she makes preparations to get Davey back from his foster family, we learn her backstory: about her husband, Patrick, who started stealing drugs from the hospital where he worked as an orderly and selling them on the street; her addiction to these drugs, and her withdrawal from them when Patrick gets arrested; and the inevitable crash when, sick from her withdrawal, she slings Davey across the room just a little too hard and breaks his leg.

The reader really begins to root for this young woman, because she's trying so hard. In her words, "Sometimes you don't get but one mistake, if the one you pick is bad enough." And she knows she has to work as hard as she can to recover from her mistake. But it's not enough. The judge decides to keep Davey with his foster family, with the understanding that they will eventually adopt him. It's a tragic blow to the young woman. But she recovers in a way that is both surprising, shocking, and redemptive.

I can't say enough about this great story. It's one of those that sucks you in from the beginning and carries you along effortlessly until the climax, and it was very satisfying to read.

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

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