Alice is a former girlfriend of Jamie’s, who once agreed to marry him if he would change. During the summer of 1977, Alice moves in with Jamie, Jamie’s mother, and Tom. According to Jamie, she has an IQ of 165 and, while they lived together in his mother’s house, she needed to have sex with Jamie at least three times a day to stay sane. At the time of Jamie’s recounting the story, she is no longer his girlfriend.
David is Jamie’s father, a physician who is divorced from Jamie’s mother. His reason for having left her is never spelled out, but Jamie’s mother’s strange behavior in 1976 and 1977 was most likely a contributing cause. He has remarried. Jamie says that his father is “a man of inaction” and seems to have been deeply unhappy while living with his family. However, even after leaving his family, he came over repeatedly during the summer of 1977 to tend the garden while Jamie’s mother watched him. At the end of the summer, he mowed down the flowers he had worked on and never returned.
The doctor comes a number of times to see Jamie’s mother in her hospital room but seems more interested in the nature videos playing on the room’s television than in his patient. He tells her that she must agree to a biopsy or leave the hospital.
When the story opens, Jamie is at his mother’s bedside, distraught because she has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He is an overweight young man, the only child of his parents, most likely in his thirties when he recounts the story. He has few friends. He states,’ ‘I’m like a nut magnet” because most of the people he knows are crazy or ‘ ‘look like they just escaped from somewhere.”
Jamie is unemployed but does not appear to be terribly worried about this, claiming that this gives him time to think and to have a number of interests, including nature. He is disconnected from his surroundings and claims to spend time trying to ‘ ‘forget things” and discover, as he says, “who I was.” When he was in school, teachers attempted to diagnose what learning disorder he had, but it was almost impossible because the symptoms continuously shifted from stuttering to the inability to tie his own shoelaces to other problems. Jamie notes that in 1982 he decided to stop trying to improve his life, and soon afterwards, “I stopped caring so much.” Based on a comment he makes to his mother, he apparently stopped attending school in 1983, which was the last time he took a test.
In 1977, after Jamie’s father had left the family, Jamie’s girlfriend Alice and another friend, Tom, moved in with Jamie and his mother. Jamie and his mother never talk about how unhappy everyone was that summer, instead they talk about nature and politics. He remembers, though, that the household was drunk most of the time, and, because the weather was so hot, they rarely left the basement.
Mom is Jamie’s mother, and when the story opens she is in the hospital, having been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She refuses to allow the doctors to operate on her, and as a result, she is dying. She is also having trouble remembering such things as how to use a television remote control and what year it is.
Since 1977, when her husband left her, she has not had a very strong grip on reality, and she is most likely suffering from some kind of mental illness. She refuses to move out of her house that is falling down around her. According to Jamie, she has forgotten most of her own life, replacing her past with “the most pleasant memories from other peoples’ lives.”
Mom does various things in the story that show her fragile mental state. Years after her divorce from David, she walks in on him and his wife and asks,’ ‘Who is this woman?” Later, while on vacation, she suddenly leaves her boyfriend and flies to London. From there, she calls Jamie and tells him that she is considering divorcing David, noting that she believes he is seeing another woman.
During the summer of 1977, after Jamie’s father leaves the family, Alice and Tom move in with Jamie and Mom, and Mom teaches the household how to drink gin. She dyes her hair red, wears brightly colored blouses from Goodwill, and is often drunk. According to Jamie, that summer she taught the household to believe that sadness was their “only friend.”
In 1979, she begins to go by the name of Meadow Star. It is also around 1979 that she develops a love for and an interest in animals, according to Jamie,’ ‘because they can’t remember in the same way we do.” As well, Jamie claims that this is when she considers writing a book about animal memory, and he refers to it in his retelling of her story— although, it is not clear whether the book was actually ever finished or published.
Sharon is the woman in the hospital bed next to Jamie’s mother’s bed, who has been admitted after a drug overdose. She is often very nasty and cynical.
Tom is Jamie’s overweight friend, who moves into the house during the summer of 1977. No one trusts Jamie’s mother with the cooking that summer, so Tom takes over, making mostly salads. Tom has a sad background, including a mother who has tried to commit suicide in four different ways, failing at all of them.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Jason Brown – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.