Wednesday, November 14, 2012
The Freshwater Mermaid by Gregory Maguire / One Teen Story
I've loved and subscribed to One Story for years and One Teen Story seemed such an obvious extension that I wondered why no one else had come up wit the idea before. There's been a slight bit of confusion surrounding my subscription and I have only received the second issue, but I feel confident that this sample is enough to gauge the quality of those to come.
"The Freshwater Mermaid" by Gregory Maguire is a meditation on the loss of innocence and the loss of parents. Carter-Ann has the absolute horror of witnessing a terrorist bombing that kills both of her parents just before starting her senior year. What follows is the survivor's grief and guilt seems to have hollowed Carter-Ann into a shell of her former self. Word, music, nature, all of it has lost its voice, its beauty, its reason as she goes through the motions like a shell-shocked observer of life. And when her boarding school roommate leaves her in charge of her tropical fish, naturally one of them dies almost instantly, forcing Carter-Ann to awkwardly process the situation in the cold, matter-of-fact world that has become her daily existence.
Maguire's prose has the quality of a rarefied fairy tale, albeit one that doesn't end in a moral or a happy ending. It is the sort of literary fiction, grounded and realistic, that has been shouted down by an endless barrage of paranormal romance that has come to define what is most commercial teen fiction. At about the halfway point I found myself wondering when the plot would "turn," when Carter-Ann would find the moment that would snap her out of her funk, only to stop and wonder why I felt that need just then. Had I become no different than the adults in the story, her teachers and guardians, who were doing their level best to help Carter-Ann "work through" her grief rather than honoring and respecting it? Once I'd asked myself that, and let it go, I realized the power in Maguire's (and Carter-Ann's) story was that allowed the reader to ask and answer the questions for themselves.
In my literary dreams there is a future full of teens getting exposure to great short stories. There are classrooms full of teens having discussions about fiction that speaks to them, not stories from previous eras studied because they are part of some canon. In this future there are these small chapbooks of stories stuffed into backpacks to be read during lunch, traded like underground currency in the hallways during passing period, read in small, quiet moments stolen away from the business of the world.
One Teen Story
$18 for nine issues