Use of Time
Brown freely switches back and forth between different years in the story, even within the same section. For example, one section begins with Jamie referring to the summer of 1977, when “we stayed inside and drew the shades.” A few paragraphs later, but still in the same section, he is back in the recent past, and his mother’s doctor is demanding that she either accept the biopsy procedure or leave the hospital. While Jamie speaks of his mother’s stay at the hospital using the present tense, a few paragraphs into the story he makes it clear that this episode is in the past; he notes, “By the time this happens”—that is, finding out about his mother’s brain tumor—”it is too late for me.” As well, he closes the story by stating, ‘ ‘This is my entire life, everything that I remember.”
The main point of reference in the past is the summer of 1977, when Jamie’s father left the family, and Jamie’s girlfriend and a friend moved into the house with him and his mother. Jamie also mentions that his mother believed in God from ‘ ‘the 7th of February, 1976, to the 10th of September, 1977,” adding, “That winter we had the biggest snowstorm in twenty years,” but he is not clear whether he means the winter of 1976 or 1977.
Jamie mentions other dates, including 1979, when his mother developed an interest in animals and decided to take the name Meadow Star; 1982, when he claims to have “stopped being in such a hurry to improve my life”; and 1984, when he reports becoming interested in nature. There is no clear evidence as to when Jamie’s mother was in the hospital, but it must have been sometime after 1984.
Brown uses irony in subtle ways. The story is essentially Jamie’s memories of the past, but he claims, on a number of occasions, to be working toward forgetting the past. For example, during the summer of 1977, Jamie remembers that his mother taught everyone in the household to drink gin.’ ‘We drank until what happened would not be remembered the next day,” he says, but obviously, in his telling of the events of the summer, he has failed to forget. He also believes that memories can be harmful, and that “when desperate, they will eat anything that we pretend to know.” As well, he claims, ‘ ‘Lately, I’ve been trying to forget things. Mom has tried to teach me little tricks about forgetting,” but he eventually discovers that this is impossible, “like trying not to get wet while you’re swimming.”
Furthermore, Brown sets the story in the town of Waterville, New York, a place Jamie says is without water. In fact, he claims that during the summer, residents visited friends and relatives in a neighboring town just to take baths.’ ‘The town was named Waterville,” Jamie muses, “because whoever lived there thought constantly about water.”
Interspersed between the story of Jamie’s mother in the hospital and memories of past events are breaks in the narrative where monologues from various nature videos are presented. These videos echo his mother’s interest in animals as well as her admiration for the way animals remember events differently from humans. On a few occasions, Jamie compares the behavior of the animals with the behavior of humans, usually coming to the conclusion that animals are better equipped to deal with adversity and change.
The tone of the story, narrated in the first person by Jamie, comes across as flat and almost emotionless, even though the subject matter is full of sadness and suffering. Jamie appears the most emotional at the very beginning of the story, when he says that he “drove like a lunatic” to get to his mother’s bedside and that he is known for “erratic bursts of self-destructiveness and unpredictable lapses in concentration.” After that, he describes his rather painful life with a relatively unemotional quality. For example, when his mother displays evidence that her brain is not working correctly, his response is to calmly help her relearn how to use a television remote or to gently remind her that she has already divorced her husband.
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.