Monday, February 27, 2006

The Bone Game, cont. -- Menace

Steven McDermott, whose StoryGlossia is an excellent blog, likes to talk about the role of menace in the short story; i.e., how it is used to create and sustain tension.

The opening of Charles D'Ambrosio's "The Bone Game" provides a great example. Kype and D'Angelo are lost, cruising through downtown Seattle:
[D'Angelo] looked out the Cadillac’s tinted window and saw, through a haze of watery green, a few Chinese men in loose slacks, old coolie stock, it seemed to him, struggling up the steep hill, stooped over as if shouldering the weight of a maul. “Look at those Chinks,” he said. “I bet they laid some track in their day.” Kype finally found the street he wanted and steered the car north through Pioneer Square. An Indian sat on the curb with his head in his hands, tying back two slick wings of crow-black hair with a faded blue bandanna. A pair of broken-heeled cowboy boots lay in the gutter while he aired his bare feet. D’Angelo rolled down his window, waved a gun in the air, took a bead, and dry-fired. The hammer struck three times against empty chambers, but in his mind D’Angelo had dropped the Indian, right there on the sidewalk. He raised the barrel to his lips and blew away an imaginary wisp of smoke.

“What if that had been loaded?” Kype said.

D’Angelo grinned, and fired the gun at Kype’s face. “It isn’t, is it?”
Is that menacing enough? Quite a start, I'd say. (On a different subject, seeing men through a "haze of watery green" foreshadows one of the recurring themes of the story: Kype as fish-man.)

Also, check out McDermott's blog about Her Real Name, a D'Ambrosio story with certain parallels to "The Bone Game". In this entry, McDermott focuses on the character McKillop, who McDermott labels "off the grid." In some ways McKillop performs a function similar to that of D'Angelo. Each is so out of control that the protagonist is relieved, in a sense, from having to sustain the narrative by himself. Each also provides a great foil for the protagonist to push against (although McKillop is ultimately helpful, unlike D'Angelo).

As a final note, how many times have you seen stories about spreading some dead guy's (or gal's) ashes? Billions. And yet D'Ambrosio makes it fresh in the hands of these characters. Quite a feat in itself.