Fiction 2011 / Volume 41

Case Study — Robert Marshall

There were things Jim was good at. He wanted to think they were important, and he needed other people to confirm this. I mean if they weren’t important, he wasn’t; he was an animal on a rock hurtling through space. (He thought this at night sometimes.)

But Jim Jr. was good at other stuff, stuff his father wasn ‘t good at. Predictably, Jim Jr. wanted the things he was good at to be important. But if these were really the important things (and if they were seen as important by the world), then there was no way (self-help books aside) that his father could feel good about himself. Jim couldn’t acknowledge that the things Jim Jr. was good at were important, and vice versa. I mean he could acknowledge it, but this “acknowledgment” was bullshit—he didn’t really believe it, because that would mean the things he was good at were in fact equally important: a pretty meaningless formulation of important.

On Jim Jr.’s part, vice versa. I suppose I’ll call this the underlying dynamic.

Now they weren’t unperceptive people, Jim and Jim Jr. So Jim Jr. unfortunately often saw through it when Jim “acknowledged the importance” of what Jim Jr. was good at, and, again, vice versa. Sometimes they fought. Sometimes they didn’t. There was always tension.

And there were, of course, many other factors—economic, social, sexual. There were dynamics beneath the underlying dynamic. Dynamics above it, beside it, within. There were illnesses, car games and wars. There were trips to the Oregon Coast. There were luminous storm clouds out over the water. There were other people (primarily Jim’s wife, Jim Jr.’s mother). There was the smell of the grass in the morning on the lawn. There were headaches. There was night. As I’ve suggested, Jim and Jim Jr. were both at different times, and in different ways, aware of what I’m calling the underlying dynamic. This awareness brought a certain degree of relief and mutual forgiveness, though not, I suppose, enough.

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