Posted in Short Stories

Russell Banks: The Child Screams and Looks Back at You

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 15

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oxford short stories

Can a long run-on sentence also be concise? In Russell Banks’ short story “The Child Screams and Looks Back At You”, he uses long sentences that could be considered rambling but every word counts toward the story. There are no extra words. So it’s a sort of deceptive rambling – which makes for an emotionally raw and amazing story. It’s only six pages. Go read it!

Some of the sentences further the plot and develop character, like this one from the perspective of Marcelle, the working-class single mom of four boys:

One of these mornings she was not going to keep after them like this, and they would all be late for school, and she would not write a note to the teacher to explain anything, she didn’t give a damn if the teacher kept them after school, because it would teach them a lesson once and for all, and that lesson was when she woke them in the morning they had to hurry and get dressed and make their beds and get the hell out to the kitchen and eat their breakfasts and brush their teeth and get the hell out the door to school so she could get dressed and eat her breakfast and go to work.

Then, the narrative might switch to second person – always an interesting choice – in order for the narrator to comment and consider some of the things going on in the plot- doing so in a seamless manner as opposed to a jarring one:

When your child lives, he carries with him all his earlier selves, so that you cannot separate your individual memories of him from your view of him now, at this moment. When you recall a particular event in your and your child’s shared past – a day at the beach, a Christmas morning, a sad, weary night of flight from the child’s shouting father, a sweet, pathetic supper prepared by the child for your birthday – when you recall these events singly, you cannot see the child as a camera would have photographed him then. 

And in some of these commentaries, the narrator compares and contrasts a medical physician (one of the characters in the story) with a priest (while Marcelle is Catholic, there is no priest in the story) skillfully bringing the story to an even deeper level.

This story is another favorite.

I read this story when I selected the Four of Clubs for Week 15 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. It’s included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. My Deal Me In list can be seen here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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