Tom McAfee (1928 – 1982)
Poet, short story writer, novelist and Lecturer in English at the University of Missouri
This is my Living Room, originally published in Poems and Stories, 1966
Available to read online here (Scroll down to Page 105)
The second story in the book to be given the style classification by Moffett and McElheny Interior Monologue. To continue their description of this narrative style: “If the speaker is reacting to his immediate surroundings, his interior monologue will tell the story of what is going on around him. If his thoughts are memories, his soliloquy will review some past events associated with something in the present. If he is mainly reflecting, his train of thought does not record a present or recall a past story – it is the story itself.” Makes sense to me.
Spoiler alert – if you haven’t read the story yet and want to before you read the summary of it below, stop now!
This is my Living Room
We’re in Pine Springs, a small town near Birmingham (presumably Alabama), and our host – for want of a better word – is a right charmer (also for want of a better word) who’s married to Rosie, whom he wouldn’t change but doesn’t tell her that, and with two daughters Ellen and Martha, whose virtue he watches like a hawk. When Ellen started trying to wear make-up, he took her out of school; he’s expecting her to turn into a Birmingham whore, despite his subscription to Christian Living.
McAfee gives us a detailed insight into the working of our narrator’s brain, even though it’s a place we’d really rather not go. He’s proud of his guns, and he insists that Rosie can shoot too – even though she doesn’t like it and gets scared. Still, some firm slaps around the face makes her see sense. He’s also proud of his store that he opens up at 7am every day; in fact he prefers it to his home. After his wife has died and his daughters have moved out, he’s going to sell the house and live in the store. It has everything he needs; food, fencing, nails and guns.
Some of his customers don’t always play fair with him. Sam Coates owed him twenty dollars for fencing. Wouldn’t pay until he stuck his .22 in Sam’s face whilst milking his cows. He paid. Old Ezmo too; he wouldn’t pay for his bread, and didn’t respond to our storekeeper’s demands. So when he heard Ezmo outside one night, “I was ready for him. I triggered my 12 gauge and got him square in the face.” He insisted that Rosie took a good look at the dead and bloodied body. “See what this world is coming to. You see that knife he had. I held Rosie’s hand and made her stand there till Ellen Jean could get Sheriff Claine.” Still, tomorrow’s Saturday. Get to bed early. Rosie starts to cry. It wouldn’t be like her if she didn’t cry.
In five rigidly structured pages, McAfee reveals this abomination of a man; violent, racist, ruthless, selfish, complacent and (allegedly) Christian. His confiding style lures the reader in and almost makes us complicit in his beliefs and actions simply by reading and accepting what we’ve read. You know the kind of guy – he assumes that you have the same attitudes that he has, just because you’ve agreed to talk with him. Our storekeeper drifts through his narrative, brooking no resistance from anyone with whom he comes into contact, not even the sheriff; he’s made sure the sheriff knows that he’s aware of the lawman’s involvement in an illicit still, so he’s got no fears there. He doesn’t think twice about assassinating Old Ezmo; he probably feels he’s doing the local community a favour.
It’s an uncomfortable read, but a superbly crafted piece of work. Removed from the second edition of Points of View, doubtless because of its abhorrent use of the N word and general offensiveness, it still stands out as an insight into moral ugliness, within a family and community powerless to stop him.
The next story in the book comes under the narrative style heading of Dramatic Monologue, and it’s The Lady’s Maid by Katherine Mansfield. I’ve never read anything by Mansfield, so I’m looking forward to reading that next.