10♠ 10♠ 10♠ 10♠ 10♠ 10♠ 10♠ 10♠
While I can’t say that Rusty Barnes’ short story “Country Boys” is my favorite, it does pose some interesting questions. It’s included in my copy of Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia edited by Charles Dodd White and Page Seay.
The narrator, high-school student Jimmy, lives in a town with a population of 400 in what I think is rural Pennsylvania (I make that assumption because there is a reference to going across the border to New York), yet to the Stone family, of which Reena is the object of Jimmy’s affection and lust, he is considered a straight-laced city boy. This in itself caused me to reflect more than I would have thought on the question of why people have to draw so many distinctions between each other. If we can’t find obvious differences, we are going to get really picky and find some anyway. My thinking is that this is more universally human than simply Appalachian.
In Jimmy’s pursuit of Reena, she tends to ask him to do things that he wouldn’t normally do as a test to see if he can gain the approval of her family especially her father Carlton, who explains his family’s philosophy:
They weren’t outlaws. They were country boys, as her dad Carlton never failed to tell me. He made it clear he didn’t want me around as he said it, spitting at my feet.
Jimmy gets a thrill out of doing whatever Reena asks of him but wonders to himself when she might ask him to do something in which he would have to decline. What bothers me about the story is when that time comes, the story ends before we actually know what decision Jimmy makes. I’m all for unresolved endings; however, I really wanted to know what happened with this story. I guess Barnes wants us to wonder for ourselves whether Jimmy would fulfill Reena’s request. Without giving anything away, instead of requests that are fun little infractions of the law, this request goes farther and is more serious. I’m going to say that Jimmy wouldn’t do it. But you never know.