BASS 2020: “Halloween” by Marian Crotty

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Menu: The Best American Short Stories 2020 Project

Evidently teenage lesbians can go just as girl crazy as other girls go boy crazy. In “Halloween” by Marian Crotty, seventeen-year-old high school senior Julie can’t control her impulses for college girl Erika and gets strategic dating advice from her thrice-married grandmother. “Halloween” is a nice little love story that moves from beginning to end in a linear progression. It does offer a small subplot about Julie’s jealousy for her mother’s growing transfer of affection for her boyfriend as Julie gets old enough to move out, and it digresses a delicious bit about the colorful grandmother, Jan. Maybe a little too much because Jan almost upstages Julie in this story.

Although “Halloween” is told with a decent concentration of embellishing details such as working at Yotopia, everybody else’s love life, bits of academic demands, and a few faint details about Tallahassee, Florida, the story is pretty much about Julie’s obsession with Erika. Sure, love stories dominate fiction, and its mildly interesting to learn about the sex lives of the latest generation, but it’s also a kind of ho-hum mundane love story. Because part of the story was set at Yotopia I couldn’t help compare it to John Updike’s classic teens at work story, “A&P.”

“Halloween” is an engaging story but won’t be memorable. Why is “A&P” still being taught in schools over a half century after it was first published and “Halloween” won’t? Why has “A&P” stuck with me ever since it was assigned to my English class back in the 1960s? How do you describe ineffable qualities?

There are milestones in the life of short stories. Getting written is a kind of conception. Getting published is a kind of birth. Getting selected for a best-of-the-year annual is a kind of graduation. Getting reprinted in retrospective anthologies is a kind of career. Becoming a classic is a form of longevity, even immortality. With every story I read that I like I have to ask if it has what it takes to keep living. And if I don’t think it will, I have to ask what would it take to survive.

“Halloween” needs something. Either more Julie, or more Erika, or more of both. If you compare Julie with Joy in “Godmother Tea” you’ll know what I mean. I wanted a lot more details about Julie’s inner world, and a lot more details about what she sees in Erika. For “Halloween” to survive we readers would have to feel what Julie feels when she can’t stop herself from going to the Halloween party. The story as is made me intellectually understand, but for it to reach the next level I’d have to feel it.

Jake Weber’s review. He found some comic elements that I didn’t. I recently wrote an essay about science fiction stories that could be read straight or as humor depending on your current perspective or mood.

Other Reviews:

Karen Carlson framed her insights around the three generations of women with relationship problems.

Jake Weber was fascinated by the questionable dating advice Jan gives Julie.

JWH

7 thoughts on “BASS 2020: “Halloween” by Marian Crotty”

  1. Another story about a self absorbed 17 year old teenager, Julie, who has a crush, or is it love, on a bit older college girl Erika, with whom she works at a yogurt stand over a summer.

    Julie takes seduction advice from her thrice married somewhat whacky grandmother, Jan, to play it cool and distant, and be patient in seducing Erika. (Spoiler) Julie is successful but then heartbroken to learn that Erika is already in a committed lesbian relationship and she, apparently, was just a summer fling. Grandma, Jan encourages Julie to stalk Erika by going to a Halloween party even if only for an hour and helps Julie find a costume and agrees to drive her. The end.

    What!!!?

    Once again, I am thinking “This is the ‘best’ short fiction of 2020?” We are in serious trouble folks as a society if this is what passes as meaningful fiction. I might expect drivel like this in a high school or college short story writing course, but what it is doing in such a collection of Best Short Stories of 2020 is beyond me.

    Maybe I am missing something. I feel like the little boy complaining to his mother that the emperor has no clothes or maybe this is just the level of banality that our society has sunk to.

    1. David, you have to remember these stories got by three editors to get here, so they are admired. I assume, if I don’t like a story it’s because I don’t see what others do. You are reacting to the basic behaviorial details of the story. I assume, the editors liked “Halloween” because of how it was written.

      1. Hi Jim:
        Thanks for the selection criteria.

        Until recently, I have not been a frequent listener to audiobooks, but rather prefer to read the printed page not even on a screen. As I have been experimenting with the various modalities I surprised to find that there is a big difference in how I read/hear the story. Your advice about reading/hearing the story three times to better perceive the mechanics of its construction is very helpful. I don’t have the interest to devote that much time to many stories. Having stated this observation, I only listened to Halloween on audible and didn’t read it, and I am wondering if reading it would have been a more appreciative experience for me. I am now thinking that for the future stories, I will read them on paper and see if my appreciation and enjoyment enhanced.

        I have long thought that listening to books being read is quite a different experience from reading a text. Different parts of the brain are activated and cognitive engagement occurs on different neural pathways. There is a place for aural narration as there is a place for the written text. Doing both as you point out contributes to a broader and more varied appreciation of the story.

        Thank you for sharing this project. I am enjoying it greatly and it is one of the things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving season.

        1. David, I do believe we experience books differently through our eyes and ears. Audio lets us be aware of the dramatic qualities of a story, whereas reading lets us see how the sentences are constructed, and the significance of individual words. Strangely, audio lets us enjoy the story slowly, but even it moves too fast to contemplate the words. We tend to read too fast, but the print page does allow us to stop and think about the story if we want.

          It would be an interesting experiment if you read the stories you listened to and see if your opinion about them change.

  2. I love that you brought A&P into it! I had a prof in college who rarely bothered with canonic interpretations, but for A&P he did a ten-minute spiel on the Eden/Fall of Man symbolism that was epic.
    I played around with cycles, with Halloween, with generational inheritence of bad love, with trust, but nothing really stuck. I was left thinking this is what it seems, a tender depiction of the pain of unrequited love, and the opposing forces the lover struggles with.

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