I’m stumped. When I read other greats like Raymond Carver, I can name devices, I can see how he opens the scene with concrete detail, how he develops character through first, the gesture, then the dialogue. Jumpha Lahiri did it to me too, where I had to physically pull my body out of the story to be able to stand outside and learn. Ann Packer makes me want to run for the hills. Why? I both get too sucked into her characters and I can’t extract myself at all to find out why. I guess my favorite story from Mendocino, it’s hard to pick, was Hightops. I know why I love this story. I love it when an author can take people’s lives in her palm like dice, roll them around and throw them hard against a table. This story is about the term triangulation. Also about mooching drifters in all of our lives. If you haven’t had a mooch, please count yourself lucky (or naïve).
This section is in the beginning of the story. The mooch? A perfect name: Winch. Probably short for Winchester or something like it, but Packer knows we’ll fill in that part in our brains. (That’s called Gestalt, where there’s inference in everything.)
Winch sits on the porch steps of Luke and Sarah’s apartment. He has forgotten the key again. He knows exactly where it is, too–in the little painted bowl Sarah keeps on the coffee table in the living room, where he sleeps. He put the key there last night because Sarah was trying to get Luke to talk about whether or not there ought to be something in the bowl–whether the bowl would look better with something in it–and Luke would not cooperate. Winch felt like a peacemaker, donating his key to the cause. When he saw the key in the bowl, Luke snorted, a sound that Winch finds extremely disagreeable. He can’t remember Luke ever making it before, but he makes it a lot now.
You see, I still get trapped. I’m in. I’m instantly in that living room, hearing the snort, with the bowl and watching the dynamic grow between Sarah and Winch. It’s not that Packer is merely showing and writing sensually. It’s also intense story, where she has cut away at any loose detail, anything she was previously married to, she’s omitted and now all you have is that pure connection to motion. A kismet that ultimately wrecks and releases in pure story arch.
Luke didn’t just snort, but snorted when he saw the key in the bowl. It’s not wordy or pretty. It’s merely the physical world reflecting the inner world, that perfect sphere we’re always striving for, right?