SSM2011 - Review: "El Camino Education" by Matt Bell

In the spirit of Short Story Month 2011, I review on an uneven schedule short stories of sorts. But mostly, it's in the spirit of Matt Bell's blog, where he's posting everyday for Short Story Month. I'm just a copy cat indebted to someone trying to keep my art form alive (not that I can actually prove I write short stories, but it's a dream). Matt Bell: you are hot for doing what you does...

To start, I begin with Matt Bell's recent story in Stoked, the new ezine from Stoked Press. The first issue, just recently published, includes the wonderful talents of Amber Sparks, Roxane Gay, and Mr. Bell.  At a total of 29 pages, it's either poetry or flash fiction.

Bell's story ("El Camino Education) is just two pages, yet like the most well written flash: it is concise and cuts to the point.

We are given a scene in media-res as the car stops suddenly on the side of the road. The hitchhiker (narrator) can only guess of what would come next. By the end of the first paragraph, the driver is behind his car to uncover his trunk and the things hidden inside: "...boxes, boxes full of books and clothing, and yellowed pictures in fancy frames."

The objects at first means nothing. Indeed, excluding the man, the objects will never have any meaning. The driver never explains, but instead asks questions about the hitchhiker's love life, if he has a girlfriend, if he's ever been in love. All this while the car moves forward and everything falls from the trunk: "Glass broke, wood splintered. Things were lost. 'Don't you think that's dangerous?'" Bell's prose is not descriptive, yet it doesn't need to be. That's not the point.

The story fast forwards and imagines the narrator imagines himself in the driver's situation. While he understood the first time, it is only experience that makes him believe. The story comes full cirlce, and almost one can imagine it happening over and over again.

It's a well written story for what it is because of course there is so much more one would want to know. But part of the story's underlying reasoning is: "you'll understand." For example, nothing is quite said--no lesson uttered between the narrator and driver--yet it was understood. Bell's story acts like a nod between strangers who are accepting their humanness, and humanity here is repetition of possible mistakes (love), or universal experiences and feelings.

Also, Matt Bell taught me what a camino is. I had no idea what it was (gay guy here...) so I looked it up. It is this:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this! "El Camino Education" is a reprint of my first published story, and so it means a lot to me to see this kind of close reading of it, long after it first appeared. Thank you!