Fat Books & Thin Women


Story Sunday: Steven Millhauser’s “Getting Closer”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

Growing up, nothing disturbed me as much as the passage of time. For one, time is just different when you’re young (I remember sometimes wanting to cry out of boredom and time going so slowly), and for two – when you’re a kid, death, the irrevocability of things, our inability to retrace time, can be unimaginably disturbing for their sheer newness. (Remember the first time you realized you were going to die?)

Steven Millhauser’s “Getting Closer” is about a family trip to a river, but more than that it’s about the ways his main character thinks about time and tries to reshape it in ways that he think of as more acceptable, more lasting. This is a boy who’s really good at “standing around doing nothing”, and that’s what he spends most of the story doing. He stands, he moves slightly, he stands, he says a few words to his Grandmother, he continues standing. Millhauser lets us into this boy’s mind, though, and here reminds us of another thing we may lose as we grow older, the rich interior world of the child, in which every minor detail of the world is worthy of exploration.

He likes the picture of himself in his own mind as he stares out sternly over the river, frowning in sunlight, his fingertips resting on top of the inner tube, his other hand on his hip, Huck Finn on the shore of the Mississippi, an Indian brave with a quiver of arrows on his back, getting ready to go down to the canoes.

Millhauser is one of those writers I always mean to read. I’m good at buying his books, less good at actually opening them up. This is a gorgeous story, though, and has me convinced I should devote a little less time to so-so mysteries, more time to his short stories. He never falters in “Getting Closer”; he captures perfectly the feel of summer and being a kid who holds himself always slightly apart from the world.

Read “Getting Closer” online

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