Impressively polite, Ronnie amuses grownups with his seriousness, yet he laughs without comprehension at their jokes at his expense. A little boy who mimics maturity. Having failed to keep Ronnie childish, swaddled in paternal safety, I wonder how my own insecurities may have passed to him. Through blood? Through example? What fears and uncertainties have induced him to adopt grownup airs of self-discipline? It strikes me as unnatural, perhaps even dangerous, that his grade school teachers love him; the parents of his playmates love him; distant relatives love him. That is, adult strangers love him. Sometimes I wish he were less cooperative, more rebellious, so he could release frustration incrementally and minimize the risk of explosion.
Alan Elyshevitz, "Father Figure" from The Widows and Orphans Fund
That quote was uncanny for me. Change names and gender markers, and it becomes a precise description of my anxieties for my daughter.
Read further into the story and the uncanniness deepens, for the narrator reminisces and reflects upon his selfish, absent father, and the ways that he has successfully encased his own rage in order to be able to function as a better parent. That very encasing leaves its traces, and thus the child's preternatural maturity appears instead as a kind of reaction-formation.
Did you know that it was possible for a parent to peevishly resent his own child for having a better parent than he had? It happens. It also shows up in stories, like this one, or a few of the Elizabeth Ellen pieces in her Fast Machine collection.
If I am to find, however, a common thread among the various quotes I have pulled in recent entries to this blog, it is that they point beyond the story and the work that those sentences do within the story. This quote leads me to reflect upon why it is that it is so common, in the U.S., to presume that children ought to be rebellious. This is not a human universal, but a trope of this particular culture in a historical period going back roughly fifty years, that will end... who knows when?
The Will Self quote encapsulates class differences in the formation of political subjects with reference to their position in production relations... and does so much more elegantly than that last clause, or than most clauses that have ever been written on that topic.
And that beautifully beastly sentence by Elizabeth Ellen? Well, that takes us beyond the scope of the narrator's obsession with Dave Eggers, into the problems of taste formation, showing how social exchange can lead not only to the acquisition of upwardly aspirational social capital, but reinforce resistance to elite norms as well. Because elitist tastes are so often douchey. Take that, Pierre Bourdieu.