I read a couple of Ron Rash’s stories in Burning Bright this morning, and like always when I read the work of a master storyteller, I stand amazed at the craftmanship and intensity of the story. “Back of Beyond” is especially strong. From the way Rash uses the weather and setting to set the tone to how he uses the interplay of characters to convey relationships and consequences is amazing. Absolutely amazing.
I’ll get back to several elements that make “Back of Beyond” so memorable in another post. This afternoon I’m focusing on one little, yet huge, variable in relationships that Rash conveys better in fiction than most writers can do in nonfiction. As a semi-retired psychology instructor, I’m familiar with the concept of “enabling” and could write a definition and provide several examples. Yet I KNOW that all would fall short of what Rash does in the culminating scenes of the story.
Ray and Martha, probably middle aged, are shivering under quilts in a trailer without heat while their son Danny, a meth addict, and his current girlfriend are dozing beneath a quilt in his parents’ home. The parents are scared to go home because of reasons you’ll have to read about in the story. Suffice it to say that they’ve pretty much turned their home over to Danny, and they’ve moved into his trailer. Parsons, the brother of the middle-aged man shivering in the trailer, takes matters into his own hands, and at some point, Ray and Martha are able to return to their home. The son and his lady friend are no longer there. No one died. At least not in the story.
But here’s the thing. His mother says several things that let the reader know how much she loves her son—and that her love has enabled him to continue his current lifestyle. I’m not holding Ray, the father, unaccountable. It’s just that in the story, it’s Martha who says, “It ain’t his fault.” And then, “It ain’t Danny’s fault.” And after Parsons brings them food and reinstates them in their home with a promise to have the electricity cut on the next day, Martha says “You had no right.”
So what is the fine line between loving and enabling? Why can’t some parents see that difference? Why can’t some parents/friends/loved ones see that enabling is crippling to everyone involved?
I can’t answer those questions. All I know is that one day I’d like to write a story as believable and well-done as “Back of Beyond.” Truthfully, I’d be happy to write one half as well-done.