Fat Books & Thin Women


Story Sunday: Murray Dunlap’s “White Boy”

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

In many ways Murray Dunlap’s “White Boy” is a spare story, one that leaves to the reader many of the details of the 15-year-old narrator’s life. He’s his school’s best runner in the four-forty, a race he classifies by describing all the races it is not:

The four-forty is excruciating.  I’m not trying to sound melodramatic; the race is hard.  With sprints, you never run out of air.  With distance, you work yourself into a rhythm and look for the fastest pace your heart can sustain.  The four-forty is different.  It’s everything you’ve got for a quarter mile.  One lap around the track.  Your muscles run out of oxygen at the final turn and it’s a mental battle from then on.  You can see the finish line. You know it’s almost over.  But the knives start in on your quads, the pins drive into your knees.  Fires burn under your feet.  The last stretch hurts worse than a fist fight.  You have to believe you can’t feel a thing.

With little more than an awkward phone call and wait for his father to pick him up, Dunlap conveys the strained nature of Ben’s relationship with his father. The relationship with the track coach, too, is perfectly drawn, with just a conversation about times and missing the last meet before the State Championships.

What I like best about this story, though, is the description of the running and of the desire to win. I can’t think of a single better description of running than of those Murray offers, and in the final race of the story the tension practically bristles off the page. (Well, screen.) Murray’s narrator, who recognizes himself as the best from his school but nowhere near the best from a wider sampling, who seems at times to want to win his father’s respect and others disgusted by the man and their limited time together, seems to own his world for the paragraphs of his championship race, however unstable the surface he runs on.

Read “White Boy” online

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If posts seem more half-assed than usual for the next few weeks, my apologies. Panic over my impending move to the Shqipëri is making it hard to do much besides watch tv…when I am not thinking about how my MakEngAlbanish (a mixture of Macedonian, English and Albanian) may not carry me far in the land of literature Albanian, how I’m going to fit all my stuff in two bags, or what I’m going to do without my host sister/soulmate ringing my doorbell twenty times a day.

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Be sure to visit Shivanee at Novel Niche and Jennifer at Books Personally to read their Story Sunday posts. If you’d like to join in and begin posting your own Story Sunday feature, email story.sundays@gmail.com for information.

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4 Comments

love the way the author captures the young man’s desperate desire to please his father, even as he is repulsed by him and rejected by him- great review! thanks for the intro to the story and for a great Sunday feature.

Comment by Jennifer, bookspersonally

[…] on ‘White Boy’ by Murray Dunlap. You can read her post at her blog, Fat Books and Thin Women, here. This week, we’re also joined by the lovely Jennifer of Books, Personally, who shares her […]

Pingback by Story Sundays – ‘The Man from the Ad’ by Idra Novey « Novel Niche: A Place for Books

Wow…I don’t use the term ‘gut-wrenching’ a whole lot when describing literature, but this piece really nails that feeling. The description of the last race was pure adrenaline. The hunting scenes with the narrator’s father are also vividly and disturbingly well captured; they call to mind the mother of all awkward enforced family gathering memories; don’t they? This is great encouragement for me to seek out more of Dunlap’s work, which I will do.

Comment by Shivanee @ Novel Niche

[…] read in the past year. Because I can’t choose just one, my two favorites of the year are Murray Dunlap’s “White Boy” and Kelly Link’s “The Faery Handbag.” (Side note: Kelly Link also wins the honor of being […]

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