Success Storiesby Russell Banks
In Sucess Stories, an exceptionally varied yet coherent collection, Russell Banks proves himself one of the most astute and forceful writers in America today. Queen for a Day, Success Story, and Adultery trace fortunes of the Painter family in there pursuit of and retreat from the American dream. Banks also explores the ethos of rampant/em>/em>/em>… See more details below
In Sucess Stories, an exceptionally varied yet coherent collection, Russell Banks proves himself one of the most astute and forceful writers in America today. Queen for a Day, Success Story, and Adultery trace fortunes of the Painter family in there pursuit of and retreat from the American dream. Banks also explores the ethos of rampant materialism in a group of contemporary moral fables. The Fish is an evocating parable of faith and greed set in a Southeast Asian village, The Gully tells of the profitability of violence and the ironies of upward mobility in a Latin American shantytown, and Chrildren's Story explores the repressed rage that boils beneath the surface of relationships between parents and children and between citizens of the first and third worlds.
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Queen for a Day
The elder of the two boys, Earl, turns from the dimly lit worktable, a door on sawhorses, where he is writing. He pauses a second and says to his brother, "Cut that out, willya? Getcha feet off the walls."
The other boy says, "Don't tell me what to do. You're not the boss of this family, you know." He is dark-haired with large brown eyes, a moody ten-year-old lying bored on his cot with sneakered feet slapped against the faded green floral print wallpaper.
Earl crosses his arms over his bony chest and stares down at his brother from a considerable height. The room is cluttered with model airplanes, schoolbooks, papers, clothing, hockey sticks and skates, a set of barbells. Earl says, "We're supposed to be doing homework, you know. If she hears you tramping your feet on the walls, she'll come in here screaming. So get your damned feet off the wall. I ain't kidding."
"She can't hear me. Besides, you ain't doing homework. And I'm reading," he says, waving a geography book at him.
The older boy sucks his breath through his front teeth and glares. "You really piss me off, George. just put your goddamned feet down, will you? I can't concentrate with you doing that, rubbing your feet all over the wallpaper like you're doing. It makes me all distracted." He turns back to his writing, scribbling with a ballpoint pen on lined paper in a schoolboy's three-ring binder. Earl has sandy blond hair and pale blue eyes that turn downward at the corners and a full red mouth. He's more scrawny than skinny, hard and flatmuscled, and suddenly tall for his age, making him a head taller than his brother, taller eventhan their mother now, too, and able to pat their sister's head as if he were a fullgrown adult already.
He turned twelve eight months ago, in March, and in May their father left. Their father is a union carpenter who works on projects in distant corners of the state-schools, hospitals, post offices-and for a whole year the man came home only on weekends. Then, for a while, every other weekend. Finally, he was gone for a month, and when he came home the last time, it was to say goodbye to Earl, George, and their sister, Louise, and to their mother, too, of course, she who had been saying (for what seemed to the children years) that she never wanted to see the man again anyhow, ever, under any circumstances, because he just causes trouble when he's home and more trouble when he doesn't come home, so he might as well stay away for good. They can all get along better without him, she insisted, which was true, Earl was sure, but that was before the man left for good and stopped sending them money, so that now, six months later, Earl is not so sure anymore that they can get along better without their father than with him.
It happened on a Sunday morning, a day washed with new sunshine and dry air, with the whole family standing somberly in the kitchen, summoned there from their rooms by their mother's taut, high-pitched voice, a voice that had an awful point to prove. "Come out here! Your father has something important to say to you!"
They obeyed, one by one, and gathered in a line before their father, who, dressed in pressed khakis and shined work shoes and cap, sat at the kitchen table, a pair of suitcases beside him, and in front of him a cup of coffee, which he stirred slowly with a spoon. His eyes were red and filled with dense water, the way they almost always were on Sunday mornings, from his drinking the night before, the children knew, and he had trouble looking them in the face, because of the sorts of things he and their mother were heard saying to one another when they were at home together late Saturday nights. On this Sunday morning it was only a little worse than usual-his hands shook some, and he could barely hold his cigarette; he let it smolder in the ashtray and kept on stirring his coffee while he talked. "Your mother and me," he said in his low, roughened voice, "we've decided on some things you kids should know about." He cleared his throat. "Your mother, she thinks you oughta hear it from me, though I don't quite know so much about that as she does, since it isn't completely my idea alone." He studied his coffee cup for a few seconds.
"They should hear it from you because it's what you want!" their mother finally said. She stood by the sink, her hands wringing each other dry, and stared over at the man. Her face was swollen and red from crying, which, for the children, was not an unusual thing to see on a Sunday morning when their father was home. They still did not know what was coming.
"Adele, it's not what I want," he said. "It's what's got to be, that's all. Kids," he said, "I got to leave you folks for a while. A long while. And I won't be comin' back, I guess." He grabbed his cigarette with thumb and forefinger and inhaled the smoke fiercely, then placed the butt back into the ashtray and went on talking, as if to the table: I don't want to do this, I hate it, but I got to. It's too hard to explain, and I'm hoping that someday you'll understand it all, but I just ... I just got to live somewheres else now."
Louise, the little girt, barely six years old, was the only one of the three children who could speak. She said, "Where are you going, Daddy?"
"Upstate," he said. "Back up to Holderness, where I been all along. I got me an apartment up there, small place."
"That's not all he's got up there!" their mother said.
"Adele, I can walk outa here right this second," he said smoothly. "I don't hafta explain a damned thing, if you keep that kinda stuff up. We had an agreement."
"Yup, yup. Sorry," she said, pursing her lips, locking them with an invisible key, throwing the key away.
Finally, Earl could speak. "Will ... will you come and see us, or can we come visit you, on weekends and like that?" he asked his father...Success Stories . Copyright © by Russell Banks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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