What Can We Steal From Danielle Evans’s “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go”?

Title of Work and its Form: “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go,” short story
Author: Danielle Evans (on Twitter @daniellevalore)
Date of Work: 2009
Where the Work Can Be Found: The short story made its debut in Issue 9 of A Public Space, one of the top literary journals around.  It was subsequently selected by Richard Russo and Heidi Pitlor for Best American Short Stories 2010 and can be found in that anthology.

Bonuses: Here is an interview Ms. Evans did with PEN.  Here is a profile of the author from the Washington PostHere is what writer Karen Carlson thought of the story.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Juxtaposition

Discussion:
Georgie is a soldier in love with Lanae, a woman he’s known since he was a child.  Unfortunately, their romance is star-crossed.  As the first line makes clear,

Georgie knew before he left that Lanae would be fucking Kenny by the time he got back to Virginia.

Georgie is indeed back from his service in the Middle East and Lanae is indeed living with Kenny, who is the manager of a KFC. Georgie seems to have a little PTSD and has trouble getting his own life going, so he assumes the role of babysitter for Lanae’s kid, Esther.  Caring for Esther also addresses Georgie’s other big internal conflict: the death and pain he saw visited upon children in theater.  Georgie takes Esther to one of those little kid boutique stores and invites the kid to enter a contest for tickets to a concert held by Hannah Montana-esque singer.  Esther pretends (kinda believes?) that Georgie is her father and wins the contest with her video about how glad she is that her Daddy is home from war.  She wins the contest, of course.  Then the press discovers the lie; Georgie is labeled a monster by the press and Lanae shuts him out of whatever quasi-family they created.

I really liked this story a great deal.  One of the biggest reasons is that Ms. Evans played with an unexpected conflict.  The first couple pages describe Georgie’s deepl affection for Lanae, a woman he’s known just about his whole life.  I was excited for the inevitable fight (physical or otherwise) between the Army Man and the Chicken Man.  Instead, Ms. Evans took the story in a far more interesting direction by focusing on the relationship between Georgie, Esther and the two girls he remembers from Iraq.  (Certainly not a romantic love triangle, but a triangle nonetheless.)  Men fight over women all the time, but entering a contest for High School Musical tickets under a “fraudulent” pretense is going to get you some big-time attention.  A lesser writer (myself, for example), might have spent twenty pages on Georgie’s resentment of Kenny, but Ms. Evans spends that time on a much more interesting relationship between the living and the dead.

Ms. Evans also does a fascinating job of putting Georgie into two similar situations whose differences illuminate the man’s character:

  • Iraq: Georgie’s job is to protect civilians, especially little girls.  He gives them candy and tries to calm them and inspire hope in them in some way.  He acts as a kind of father to these sometimes fatherless children.
  • Home: Georgie’s job is to care for Esther, a little girl.  He gives her presents and treats and tries to be a positive force in her life.  He acts as a kind of father to a young woman who doesn’t have one.

This juxtaposition creates some sad subtext.  Georgie always tries to do the right thing and tries to help people, but he ends up failing, no matter what.  How will your characters react when you pluck them from their current situation and force them to deal with similar stressors in a different setting?

What Should We Steal?

  • Play with the unexpected conflicts between your characters.  We’ve all read (and written) stories about two men fighting over a woman.  Instead, make this tension latent in favor of a different conflict related to the characters.
  • Shuttle your character between similar situations to illuminate his or her character.  What will your creations reveal when they face two different situations that have a lot of similar qualities?

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