“A Hundred Ways to Do it Wrong” by Emily Temple – selection #40 of Deal Me “IN 2016

The Card: ♠J♠ Jack of Hearts

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me “IN,” Hearts is my suit for stories from Indiana-related magazines and literary journals

The Selection: “A Hundred Ways to Do it Wrong” from the Summer 2015 issue of Indiana Review. The story was a nominee for the 2015 Pushcart Prize

The Author: Emily Temple. Having gotten her MFA from University of Virginia, she’s currently writing for lithub.com. You can browse some of her work there at http://lithub.com/author/emily-temple/#

legacy project seal of approval 2

What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up img_6202with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of
cards/storyroster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission

One Hundred Ways to Do it Wrong

“It only gets worse when you notice we can’t be trusted. I didn’t fail the test. I just found a hundred ways to do it wrong. Do you think you can forgive me?”

One thing I continue to be struck by since I joined the ‘book blogging’ community is just how many great writers there are out there that I had never heard of (imagine that!). I’ve found that one way to encounter many of these is to simply read some literary journals, something I’d never really done until a few years ago. This week, drawing the Jack of Hearts led me to this story by Emily Temple. It starts out ordinarily enough, with a devoted father (dressed hilariously in a “Shittake Happens” apron – of course I googled it and of course there is shiitakehappenssuch a thing for sale out there) preparing “tons of food” for his daughter’s 16th birthday party. All of a sudden however, when the daughter is inside the house with the “master chef,” the author sneaks in another father: “As she sniffed the mini quiches, her father came in from the yard wearing a baseball cap and holding a well-worn mitt. Are you ready to throw the ball around? he yelled pounding his fist into the mitt more times than the girl thought strictly necessary.” This happened so quickly, I had to go back and read again – ‘wait, isn’t her father inside with her?’

It turns out this was just the start, as many other fathers (I guess the number must be one hundred for the story’s title to be exact) show up, each representing one thing or another in the girl’s growing up – either real or imagined, it seems.  It seems the girl also has a secret she wants to tell her father. At some point, the girl begins to feel the need to “choose” which one of these is her real father.  Then, she lines them up and “told them they would all have to go. Except the real one, if he didn’t mind identifying himself, please. This had gone on long enough.” Though it is not exactly specified what the secret is (though one can guess) and she wants to make sure she tells the right father.  At the end, when she apparently has settled on one of the men as her father, she says to him “I’ll tell you tomorrow. If you’re still here.”

Maybe this is a story that left me with more questions than answers, but as I’ve stated here any times before, I enjoy when some of the work is left to the reader. I loved the concept and the execution of it, too. I’ll be looking for more to read from this author.

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