The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[25] “The Artificial Heart”

on March 11, 2013

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It’s a strange thing to see a man kill something he loves with a blank face, beating the life out of another being.

Of all the stories in Birds of a Lesser Paradise, this one is hands down my absolute favorite. It’s the only story that takes place in the future (or, at least, that clearly identifies itself as taking place in the future) and the only one that’s got a kind of creepy, semi-dystopian bend to it – which, of course, I ate up with a giant metaphorical spoon. It’s 2050 and our narrator’s father has dementia. He’s recently begun seeing a woman with Alzheimer’s, Susan, and he wants to take her fishing. Desperately. Only, the ocean is dead and there is no longer anything to fish.

That alone should be enough to tell you everything you need to know about this story, and why its heartbreaking and beautiful and you should buy this collection just to own this story. But on the off chance you need more, lets continue – once they arrive at the ocean, our narrator’s father manages to catch a fish, and what happens then is both so sad and so enigmatic that I was left ugly crying:

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even harder than I was when I read Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, which this story seems to have A LOT in common with. A LOT.  In fact, the more I think on it, the more I wonder if there aren’t so many connections that this is what Megan Mayhew-Bergman meant to do? Who knows, but my gut feeling tells me probably.

I don’t know what it was that I loved more in this story: the father and his slipping mind, the idea that 40 years in the future we’ll be ranting about Beyonce, his coming and going between pop culture lucidity and nostalgic past; our narrator’s lover, Link, who is one of those men capable of all things a little bit, a man who feels genuinely guilty about being human when looking at an ocean that is dead, an ocean where a school of fish are a rumored mythical sight; or our narrator herself, torn between wanting to keep her father in reality, to have him accept and admit that things are no longer as they once were, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad, and wanting to protect him emotionally, keep him calm and happy and living in the past.

That was rambly. I apologize. If you’re still with me, I just want to say that this is a story that matters because its a story about all of us, about all of our future. It’s not just about the way we’re hurting the environment (oh! another thing I love about this story is that it’s the only one in the book that features nature by highlighting a distinct lack of nature, and its a conceit that works brilliantly!), its about the questions of quality of life, of what importance memory plays, of how we look at those we love and make decisions on their behalf but with ourselves still in mind. Please go read this story. I beg you. And then, you know, cut your pop can holders.

Rating: OMFGZ!

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