The Last Speaker of the Language – Carol Anshaw

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It’s week fifty (50!) of Deal Me In 2014 and I drew the eight of hearts, which I had assigned to the Carol Anshaw’s story “The Last Speaker of the Language,” which I own as part of the 2012 edition of The Best American Short Stories. This volume (and prior years’ editions) has contributed several of my Deal Me In reads this year.

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This is the story of Darlyn, a single mom, a lesbian, a dead-end job holder with an aging and alcoholic mom and a clandestine love affair with a Lexus-driving, married woman. That feels like enough for an entire novel (and maybe it is – I’d like to read more of Darlyn’s story) but Anshaw somehow distills it all into a short story.

Darlyn also has a (nearly) perfect daughter, Mary, who, not happy with her name, has chosen another to be called by, “Lake.” Darlyn’s strategy had been intended to give Lake/Mary “the simplest name possible” since she herself “had suffered her whole life with one that makes anyone using it sound like they’re calling over a truck-stop waitress.” That quotation is representative of the wry humor sprinkled throughout the story – an element which made the tale of Darlyn’s depressing condition at least bearable.

The story itself is somewhat episodic. At first I thought it was going to be about Darlyn’s coping with her mother’s alcoholism, but that is just one of the many helpings on her over-filled plate.

And where does the odd title of this story come into play? It’s during an intimate exchange between Darlyn and her Girlfriend, Christy:

Christy: “Here’s the saddest thing. It was on NPR. This woman just died. She was the last speaker of her language. Bo. That was the language. The sad part was when the second-to-last speaker of Bo died four years before. So for her last four years, this woman had no one in the world she could talk with.”
Darlyn: “I don’t think that’s the saddest thing. The saddest thing is me being I love with you.”
Christy: “Don’t say that.”
Darlyn: “You’re the only one I can speak Bo with.”

The concept of a “last speaker of the language” is indeed a powerful one and it’s understandable that an author would be inspired to include it in one of her works. Though not my favorite short story this year, I can see why others found it worthy of being included in the Best American Short Stories series. I found a copy of this story online at http://www.ohio.edu/nor/a/content/pdfs/anshawbaf.pdf if you’d like to read it.

Have you read anything by this author before? This was my first experience with her.

What are some of your favorite short stories that you’ve read this year? I’m looking for stories to include in my 2015 Deal Me In roster…

Below: Carol Anshaw

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4 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    December 14, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    I haven’t read anything by this author either, but I like the concept of this story. My favorites this year: Sonny’s Blues (James Baldwin), Everything That Rises Must Converge (Flannery O’Connor), Haircut (Ring Lardner), and anything by Herman Melville.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jay said,

      December 15, 2014 at 9:16 am

      I think I’ll do my “shorties” awards again this year. I need to come up with some nominees though… 🙂

      Like

  2. Cedar Station said,

    December 15, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I need some ideas for 2015, too! I’m guessing you might have read these guys already, but I’d recommend almost anything by Ray Bradbury or George Saunders.

    On a side note, that is a really cool playing card.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 15, 2014 at 9:19 am

      I liked that card too. One of the unanticipated consequences of this challenge is that I’ve become very interested in customized or unusual playing card decks. 🙂

      I may include Saunders this year. I’ve got tons of unread Bradbury stories too, but I was also thinking about making him a special project one month.

      Have you read much Jack London? He’s a great short story writer in my opinion. I’ve also come to like the darker stories of Ambrose Bierce this past year.

      Like


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