Monday, September 1, 2014

"That's a fact" - the two sides of life

I was first introduced to the writing of Linda McCullough Moore when her short story, “On My Own Way Now,” appeared in the April, 2014, issue of The Sun Magazine. I was so taken by it, and blessed by it, that I investigated her published writing further and besides being published in many magazines and journals learned that she has a book of short stories entitled, “This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon.” It is a book of 14 stories that, as with “On My Own Way Now,” I feel blessed by.

From some brief email correspondence I learned from Ms. Moore that she is deeply Christian which puts her work in the same frame for me as Flannery O'Connor and like Flannery O'Connor, Ms. Moore does not shy away from the dark side of life but entering this world of suffering is able to bring our attention to the absurdity and incongruity of the lives we have created, often hellish in tone, on the ego plane. Reading Moore’s stories I laugh and cry and realize once again, and then again that there has to be a better way. It is in this realization that there must be a better way that Moore’s stories prod us to a more spiritual awareness, a desire to be better people than we are.

In the first story, “That’s a fact” Moore tells the story through the eyes of probably a 10 or 11 year old girl in 1955 about the time her family goes to visit neighbors at Christmas time who are German immigrants having come to the United States after World War II. The German father teaches at a local college while the narrator’s father sells cars. The Germans extol the virtues and benefits of life in the United States while the narrator’s father finally shares what he really thinks and feels about his life. Here is a short excerpt of how Moore writes the scene:

“I am a scientist at university,” the husband says. “The world is open for us now.”

“Well, good for you, buddy.” My father’s voice could knock down soldiers. “I didn’t finish high school.” He addresses his remarks to the shoelace he pulls between two fingers. “And let me tell you, my friend, your life is pretty rotten when you got no education in this country, and a wife and three kids and a fourth on the way.”

I snap my head around and catch my mother’s eye, but she is looking at her lap. My sister grimaces, and shrugs don’t look at me, I didn’t do it.” pp. 4-5

Moore describes class in America and how it feels on the street. Even immigrants with a better education have it better than home grown Americans without an education, and this discrepancy is perceived and understood by a child watching her parents interact with this German family at Christmas time.

The title of Moore’s story “That’s a fact” refers to the juxtaposition of what the 10 year old narrator reads in her Weekly Reader at school and what she experiences in her real life. The title of the story, “That’s a fact,” is irony at its best. 

The narrator in Moore’s story tells us, “I read a story in the newspaper about a family in Germany who were so poor they ate candle wax. You won’t find that in the Weekly Reader. The paper said that the family died of poisoning. They boiled needles from a yew tree to make broth.”p.5

We get the sense through the narration of this young girl that there are two worlds: the official one, the supposedly official one, described in the Weekly Reader, and the real one where people struggle, suffer, and die.


Rev. Galen Guengerich has written that the ethical imperative of Unitarian Universalism could be gratitude, but it is hard for broken people, suffering people, struggling people to feel gratitude. That brokenness, struggle, and suffering has to be recognized, acknowledged, and addressed before people can move to gratitude. The young narrator of this story realizes, even at her young age of supposed innocence and naiveté, that the “facts” she is reading in her Weekly Reader and the pretense that her family tries to project outside of the house is not really real. There is a clear appreciation that people live in a dream of pretentious wishing while the deeper reality is uglier, more painful, and frightening. And Moore, in the title of her story, writes, That’s A Fact.

2 comments:

  1. I love Moore's book of stories, and the first is wonderful if not also a bit sad. She has a way of getting inside the heart and soul.

    I grew up in a family just like the one she describes. We were Irish Catholic and it seemed just like the stereotype of mom always being pregnant and dad always being drunk.

    We pretended things were okay at school but never invited anyone home because you never knew what kind of chaos might being going on at the time. To be honest, my Catholic religion didn't help me much because the life we led was not only considered normal but seemed sanctioned by the church. Women were not supposed to use birth control and to keep giving sex to their drunk husbands because they were to be submissive according to St. Paul and divorce was a mortal sin.

    As a kid I felt the future was bleak and if I knew anything it was that I didn't want a life like my mother's. There seemed to be no one whom I could trust enough to tell.

    Luckily, I worked my way through college and have made quite a different life that the one I grew up in. I love my parents. I realize they did the best the could with what they had and what they knew. If I have learned anything it is the healing balm of forgiveness. I no longer carry my grievances and resentments. I have moved on to a life I think is more functional and happier for me.

    Many thanks for your wonderful blog.

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  2. Caitlin:

    Thank you for your wonderful comment. I appreciate it.

    David

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