Somewhere in my webbish peregrinations the other day I came across an appreciation of John Kessel’s “The Baum Plan for Financial Independence”. The appreciation includes this statement:
“A casual reader might have read this story: Two trashy people ride in a strange subway to an even stranger terminal where they are given tons of cash. That casual reader would, in my opinion, really miss out on some great layers of this deceptively simple story.”
Well, that’s how I read it. Although this story has been highly praised, and was in at least one Year’s Best volume, I thought it was rather lame. The main character takes harly any independent action — he is literally led by the hand through much of the story — but he is sent on an amazing journey and in the end he is, as it says above, given tons of cash. Which he accepts. The end. Whoopee. I guess I’m shallow. It may be that, as the appreciation says, there’s more to the story. But most of the Oz references went over my head, since I’ve never read that series. And the socio-economic allegories some other readers have found weren’t apparent or didn’t work for me. If there really was a lesson to be learned about the Haves gaining their wealth from the sweat of the brows of the Have-Nots, why did the main character simply acquiesce to the system? What some see as his “moment of epiphany” at the end of the story fails for me because he does not take any action as a result of his epiphany, nor is there any implication that he will do so in the future — which means that I don’t even consider it an epiphany. I guess what I’m trying to say is… well, I’m a simple guy, and I like my stories simple. It’s not that I’m incapable of appreciating a finely turned description or a reference to an older story; some of my favorite stories (and some — or even most — of my stories) are riffs on older stories by obscure authors. But for me, if a story doesn’t work at the first, most basic level, I’m not going to stick around to see if it has hidden depths. I didn’t like “What I Didn’t See” either. But that’s a rant for another day.