"Stretching Fifteen," by Angel Luis Colón, in Protectors 2: Heroes, edited by Thomas Pluck, Goombah Gumbo Press, 2015.
Excuse me while I get professorial for a minute. Time to distinguish apples from oranges.
Every twist ending is a surprise. Not every surprise ending is a twist. A twist ending is one that makes you rethink everything that happened before. The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, for example.
This story is a good example of a surprise ending that is not a twist, not that there is anything wrong with that. Colón takes his tale in clever and unexpected directions..
Second point: You can describe anyone you want as "my hero," meaning that you admire and wish to emulate the person. But if you call someone "a hero" you should be describing someone who risked a lot (typically life but I would settle for freedom or fortune) for a worthy cause. Merely saving one's own life doesn't qualify - even if you save other lives at the same time.
Take, for instance, Chesley Sullenberger who successfully landed a jet on the Hudson River, saving the lives of everyone on board. Was that heroism? Nope. Incredible cool-headedness and fantastic skill, but he was not heroic, because he did not volunteer for the job. He just happened to be the guy in the cockpit, and we are all glad he was.
But - and it's a big but - after the jet landed, Sullenberger stayed in the plane, counting heads, to make sure everyone was safely out before leaving himself. And that makes him a hero.
Which brings us, I am sure you are delighted to know, to this week's story. Chris does something quick and decisive which saves his own life and perhaps that of many others. He is praised as a hero as only modern America can.
At first he seems to react well. He knows it's only fifteen minutes of fame and resists the temptation to turn into a media slut. But when the attention fades away he can't get back into his normal life (could there be PTSD involved?) and starts looking for a way to get the glory back.
I predicted three or four ways the story could turn out and Colón completely fooled me. Like I said, surprise ending. And a thought-provoking and satisfying story.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Sunday, December 6, 2015
I can't say much about this story without giving away the store. So let me point out that the book is a fundraiser for PROTECT, "a non-partisan anti-crime pro-child lobby." There are worse causes.
The narrator of the story, Abel, is a bartender and he's back in the tavern on a night off. He deliberately picks a fight with a regular customer, a guy named Scott. Scott is what they call a "pick-up artist," who brags on the web about his irresistable techniques for seducing women.
Why does Abel want to get into a fight with this steroid-laden jerk? What's his game plan?
That's where I have to stop talking. Except to say that, while the story is serious, there's a line about martial arts that made me laugh out loud. And the last paragraph is stunning.