Jess Walter’s “Mr. Voice” – selection #2 of Deal Me In 2017


The Card: ♠J♠ Jack of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s sings of “the things that are.

The Selection: “Mr. Voice” from my copy of the 2015 Best American Short Stories, edited by T.C. Boyle

The Author: Jess Walter of Spokane, Washington. I’ve read a couple of books of his before, “Beautiful Ruins,” and the excellent short story collection “We Live in Water.” (Post about the latter found at https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/jess-walters-we-live-in-water/) I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting him in person when he came through Indianapolis a couple years ago for a Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library event. Learn more about him at http://www.jesswalter.com

IMG_3919-0What is the Deal Me in Challenge? Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Mr. Voice

“Listen to me, Tanya. You’re a very pretty girl. You’re going to be a beautiful woman. This is something you won’t understand for a while, but your looks are like a bank account. You can save up your whole life for something, but at some point, you’ll have to spend the money. Do you understand?”

This is a story told at the present (Clotho!) but concerns a time forty years ago, when the narrator (Tanya) was a young teen girl. Tanya’s mother is a real looker, who never has any problems getting men’s attention or dates. Suddenly, however, one of the dates sticks around, and it’s not one young Tanya would expect: the 50-something “Mr. Voice,” a locally famous voice-over guy. We as readers suppose that she’s marrying him for the “security” as this is about the time she tells her daughter the quotation above. I find this a lamentably mercenary approach to life.

Frankly, Mr. Voice sounds pretty creepy at first, as poor Tanya can hear some of his and her Mom’s “intimate moments” through their house’s paper thin walls. Add into the mix a son of Mr. Voice’s from a previous marriage who, though several years older than Tanya (not to mention being gay), the young girl has a crush on, even if he is her stepbrother.

I’ve written before how I admire and enjoy stories with resilient young characters, and Tanya certainly falls into this category. What raises this story another level, though, is the surprising steadfastness that the initially creepy Mr. Voice exhibits. When things take a turn for the worse for Tanya after her mother “runs off” with a musician in a rock band, it is Mr. Voice who helps stabilize her world and gives her the opportunity to overcome her mother’s parenting shortcomings. This ended up being a “feel good” story for me, especially after Tanya narrates a glimpse of her own present life and how she deals with a “rebellious” daughter of her own – one who is fond of tattoos and piercings.

Personal Notes ♫: I have a couple of Jess Walter’s books in my TBR pile, namely The Financial Lives of Poets and The Zero, which he signed for me when he visited Indy. As he signed, I got to speak to him briefly, primarily about one of his stories, “Wheelbarrow Kings,” which I told him sounded to me like a modern retelling of “The Odyssey.” He nodded knowingly, which explains in part how he signed the book in the picture above.

Next up in Deal Me In 2017: Zenna Henderson’s “The Anything Box”

What short stories did YOU read this week?

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7 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    January 11, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    “lamentably mercenary” – what a great way of describing that quotation!

    And since you brought up Kurt Vonnegut – is 2017 the Year of Vonnegut for Indianapolis? Or has that already taken place? I thought I read somewhere that it was this year.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      January 11, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      2017 is indeed the Year of Vonnegut. The new location of the library/museum is happening sometime in ’17.

      Like

  2. Martha G said,

    January 12, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Jay–I’ve added this (or something from “We live in water” to my list of possibles when I pull a Joker.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jay said,

      January 13, 2017 at 11:38 am

      “We Live in Water” was one of my favorite books of the year when I read it. You’ve reminded me I still need to find a way to incorporate your ‘joker idea’ into my DMI. Hmm….

      Like

  3. vidyatiru said,

    January 16, 2017 at 1:10 am

    this story, and your review, make me want to add this to my own list.. 🙂 and as you mention, there is the joker (two of them actually!) so maybe i can ..
    my pick for the week was a story by Ruskin Bond..

    Like

  4. LadyInRead said,

    January 16, 2017 at 1:11 am

    this story, and your review, make me want to add this to my own list.. 🙂 and as you mention, there is the joker (two of them actually!) so maybe i can ..
    my pick for the week was a story by Ruskin Bond..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jay said,

      January 17, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      I hope you give him a try, LiR. He’s deserving, both for his writing and his graciousness at the event I met him at. 🙂
      -Jay

      Like


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