Jim goes on a trip by bus--without informing his parents--to meet R. P. Flint, the author of his favorite pulp adventure stories. Only, as it turns out, he is not there as a fan: Flint has had an affair with Jim's mother, whose hatred of Flint's stories now has an apparent explanation.
But all is not as it seems. Jim learned of his mother's affair by reading a letter Flint had sent her in which--it seems--all is revealed, and her words confirm that she has had an affair. Yet Flint explains that he wrote those letters as a fantasy of a great romance, and that Jim's mother never responded to them. In the end, Jim realizes that Flint does not know his last name: he must have been writing lewd letters to numerous women. Jim returns home knowing less than when he left; his mother has had an affair with an unknown man, and Jim's favorite author is rather less than he'd imagined.
This story has a lovely device of mixing the fantasy story Jim is reading with the real world he is navigating, Caelwin goes on to X and the bus slows down, etc. So far, so common. But then Jim meets Flint and in fact Flint's fantasies--the letters--are merging with his real world, in the person of Jim. It would have been better, I think, if Flint hadn't said it explicitly himself, though it's not obvious, at the time, exactly what he means.
The progressive revelations work very well. When we are first told that Jim's mother dislikes Flint's stories, we just think she is prejudiced against fantasy stories. When she throws away the magazines and angrily tells Jim that Flint is just a pervert whose stories are read by prisoners and soldiers, it seems so much more over-reaction. When her affair is revealed, we say, "ah-ha!" and now we know why she reacted so strongly. She was lying to cover her discomfort about the affair. Finally, we realize that her original complaints really were her true (and well-founded) opinions about Flint.
Seeing Flint progressively surrender more of his personal fantasy in the face of Jim's questioning is great, too. Very well done.
|M. T. Anderson||Author|