In what at first appears to be a sort of laundry list of facts, Gita Smith has created an unflinching narrator who is as much a metaphor for the world he inhabits as vice versa. Smith transforms an open prairie landscape into a suffocating no-other-man’s-land. A world the narrator describes as “worn down to a nub” finds its sharp edges in its inhabitants. Smith subtly colors the first half of the story with the revelations of the second. Is the narrator asking for a way out, trying to make some connection with the reader to escape, in a way, his hopeless surroundings? Smith gives us the bleak picture before showing us the bleakest aspect: The narrator and the “prairie law” he enforces. Once the narrator admits to killing a man, the irony of an earlier statement becomes clear, “If the emptiness doesn’t hollow you out, the lonesomeness will.” It’s the narrator who keeps his surroundings both empty and lonely in the end. We come to recognize the beginning exposition for what it is: Rather than mere description, it is the narrator’s resignation to his circumstances. He is not asking for our pity or forgiveness; there is no remorse or desire for change but rather an acceptance and, thus, a complicity in the harshness of his situation. He neither welcomes outside involvement nor does he recommend it; he finds his reasoning for justification in nature: “Scorpions sting each other over nothing. Sparrow hawks that’ve gone a week without rabbit flesh will try to fly away with a farm cat twice their size.” Not only is this a place where all species must act rashly in order to survive, it amplifies the consequences of their desperation to a deadly degree.
Sunday’s Fictionaut Fiction Nugget: “Mean”