Thursday, May 30, 2013

In Short...Honoring Short Story Month

In honor of Short Story Month our ContribuTator Heather wrote some thoughts about one of her favorite stories. 

Joyce Carol Oates' famous short story, Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? is centered around a beautiful, blonde, 15 year old -- dare I say naive -- girl named Connie. The story is split into two parts: the first half describes Connie almost in reaction to the world around her. It details her in comparison to her family members (mother, sister June, and father) and her experimenting with who is she outside of the home while she's out with girl friends and boys. The second half of the story depicts Connie's encounter with Arnold Friend, a strange man who pulls into parent's driveway while the rest of the family is away at a BBQ.

Where Are You Going? … is richly layered. There is so much to see and absorb here it definitely deserves more than one read through. Easily recommendable if you're interested in fiction, short stories, and/or women's literature. It's also good exercise for the analytically minded because Oates creates a world that is meant to be explored. It's a great example of what's makes extraordinary short stories so compelling: there's a lot of punch in a small package.

I discovered Where Are You Going? ... while reading through the Love and Pain section of Kevin Smokler's Practical Classics. Prior to this short story, I had no experience with Oates. I had seen her name on countless books, none of which had ever landed in my hands until Smokler's chapter convinced me that I needed to change that in short order. When I finished it, I wondered whether or not it was something my mother had read and whether or not it had influenced the way in which she raised me: cautious, don't talk to strangers (especially men), be careful of who you interact with. My childhood wasn't paranoid, but my mother made sure to instill the need to be alert and aware of my surroundings at all times. It's something that served me well as a teenager and into my adult years living in a major metropolitan area. Where Are You Going? … on the surface, it acts as a beware tale of what happens if you aren't careful.

Where Are You Going? … captures the feeling of being a young, female teenager. You're on the precipice of the freedom adulthood brings -- intensely curious and desirous of it, but simultaneously nervous and afraid. You try and imitate what you think adulthood is and what it means but in reality, you aren't prepared emotionally. It's in the cat-and-mouse game of pretend where valuable lessons are learned that help you on your path to adulthood. The bravado instilled by nervousness and fear pushes you forward -- just the right amount and it's a learning experience, too much and you're centered directly in harm's way.

What are some of your favorite short stories?

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