J♦ J♦ J♦ J♦ J♦ J♦ J♦ J♦
She was bald, scrawny, ashen, yet with a bloated belly. She couldn’t look. Sometimes she would sink to that floor and just lie there, too sick to even cry, too weak to even get dressed, yet somehow she did get dressed, slapped on that hot, goddamn wig, and showed up for dinner. It was easier to do that if you pretended that is wasn’t real, if you pretended it was all on TV.
Thom Jones 1993 story “I Want to Live!” deals with Mrs. Wilson, an older lady with cancer. The story is not exceptionally depressing even if it is obviously sad. Nor is it incredibly uplifting and courageous even though Mrs. Wilson has many brave moments.
What makes the story unique and even a little odd is that Jones strikes a balance somewhere in the middle. While the reader doesn’t know Mrs. Wilson’s family, they easily are just as surprised as Mrs. Wilson that the family member that gives her the most comfort is her son-in-law. He does that with honesty and not pity – with a desire to make her comfortable even with some unconventional methods. The reader gets the impression that Mrs. Wilson and the son-in-law have not been that close but the cancer brings them together.
Mrs. Wilson’s bravery is not that of the Bantam rooster she remembers from her childhood farm life who strutted around as though nothing was too big for him to conquer. Her bravery is more of someone who knows she will be conquered but will keep on going until that happens.
This story is included in my copy of The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the Jack of Diamonds for my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.