“Between the Lines” – a short story by Ben Winters

Read for:  Week 40 of the 2015 Deal Me In Challenge

Card Drawn: Ace of Diamonds

My Source for the story:  The “Indy Writes Books” anthology

My other experience with this author:  His short story “Man on the Monon” and his book “The Last Policeman

This story is the lead-off hitter in the Indy Writes Books anthology that was published late last year. It’s a kind of Gift of the Magi meets a Steve Jobs Product Launch meets the Twilight Zone. Well, Gift of the Magi may not be totally appropriate, although like that story the twist of this one is the result of only the best intentions. Experienced readers know, however, that good intentions are not necessarily an effective vaccine against protagonist woe…

IndyReads-Covers5

We’ve become an increasingly a gadget-addicted society in the past decade or two. Things are speeding up too, as new products are coming at a fast and furious pace. Winters highlights this trend with the very first sentence of the story: “When the company announced that they would be making an announcement, everybody flipped out.” Sound familiar? Speculation follows about what the new gadget might be this time. When the announcement finally comes we learn that the new device is one “that allowed human beings to enter into works of fiction.” The name of the device appropriately gives this story its title.
Of course, for consumers, buying a “Between the Lines” device is not where it ends. To use the device, you also need to buy an “OpenBook” to insert into the device. Neither are cheap in the imagined (probably not too distant) future of the story. In spite of the expense, the Sutters – a simple wage-earning couple (not poor, but one that can’t often afford luxuries) have a daughter Caitlin who has always loved to read and who is also approaching her twelfth birthday so they decide to buy her one… Let the scrimping and saving begin! Mr. Sutter begins walking to work instead of buying a “transit card” meals are skipped at the office, purchases of new clothes are put on hold and finally the day comes when he arrives at the “Wolcott & Lombe” bookstore armed with more than enough to buy a Between the Lines and an OpenBook to go with it (he had over-saved in fear of an unexpected price increase). The OpenBook they’ve decided to purchase for Caitlyn is none other than “Alice in Wonderland.” How sweet.

Like any good parent, Mr. Sutter is concerned whether or not there are safety issues with such a device. “Is there any danger?” he asks. The salesperson gives him a well-rehearsed reply that he’s likely given thousands of time since the product came out. “There is no danger in any of these books, sir. That’s the whole point. You go into the book and you experience the book, but you can’t change the story, and the story can’t change you. But the memories? The memories last a lifetime.”

The last sentence there provides a bit of foreshadowing for the direction the story goes. Mr. Sutter decides to use his excess of saved cash to buy a second OpenBook for him and his wife to enjoy and excitedly heads home with his purchases. I’m afraid I have to stop here since I don’t want to have to write “MAJOR spoiler alert” preceding this post.

I liked the story a lot, particularly how effectively Winters captures the essence of our gadget obsessed culture. There’s also a section where he discusses the early days of Between the Lines’ release – which OpenBooks are most popular and with what demographics, and also about how, for a time anyway, the Between the Lines phenomenon leads to a resurgence in the bookstore business. He even notes that some authors “righteously opted out of the licensing deals” noting that there would be no OpenBook edition of “The Corrections” at Jonathan Franzen’s “irritated insistence.” (heh heh. Well played, Mr. Winters)
If you’d like to read this story – and the others in this fine anthology – you may purchase a copy at Indy Reads Books bookstore in downtown Indianapolis. Proceeds from its sales go to support local literacy initiatives, so it’s a win-win purchase for you.:-) You can also find info at http://www.indyreads.org/indy-writes-books/

I’ve posted about several of the other stories from this book as part of my annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. Links to some of my favorites are below.

Your Book: A Novel in Stories – Cathy Day

Small Planes, Flying Low – Victoria Barrett

El Estocada – John David Anderson

Finding Eudora – Amy Sorrells

Anna’s Wings – Angela Jackson- Brown

(“Picture if you will… a hard-working young couple saves their money to buy their daughter a new OpenBook device that allows her to step into a beloved novel – or perhaps maybe… intoThe Twilight Zone…”)

Ace of Diamonds image used for this post found here

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