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2013 Story 135

135. INDULGENCE by Susan Perabo, from issue 178 of one story magazine (the May 3, 2013 issue)  In "Indulgence," Christine, a married woman with kids of her own, makes a trip home to have one last smoke-filled weekend with her mother, who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Both women have long since given up smoking, but indulge one last time. The requisite admissions and admonitions occur over the course of the weekend. I will say this: Perabo knows how to manipulate her readers. I point this out not as a negative or a positive; all fiction (written, spoken or visual) is meant to manipulate, the question always being "how obvious is the manipulation?"  Perabo moves her two main characters around the way an expert Three-Card Monty man moves his tools -- the reader should be keeping an eye on X but gets distracted enough by Y (just enough, and subtly enough) that the reveal of where the story is really going hits like a sucker punch. the story ends up being about the "what ifs" and the "things we wish we'd have had time to say," but in a very different way from what the reader expects. I faced this problem from both angles with my parents: my mother's death from cancer was slow, and we had time to say our good-byes (but still didn't necessarily say everything we should have). My father's death was sudden (but we said more in the week before he died, as if he knew it was coming, than we'd said to my mother). So the story hit home on that level, but it also hit home on a writer's level: I spend a lot of my time thinking of the "wouldn't it be cool if..." and "how would I react if..." scenarios. In fact, one of my problems is that I can't always shut my brain off when these scenarios start to roll through my head. Insomnia from over-thinking is one of those things I am plagued with and don't know how to defeat.  Perabo captured that detailed-but-foggy thought process incredibly well in this story.

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