Excerpt from ‘Fantasy Land’:
Nate was engaged to a girl named Beth. Beth was smart and confident and I hated her. She was a child speech pathologist. She helped children with adorable lisps talk better. I would have hated him too had he not been cheating on her. It redeemed him, somehow. Nate always fucked things up. It seemed to be the only thing he was good at and I admired him for it. He didn’t beat himself up over it, he just continued forward with a sheepish grin. I first met Nate at his 26th birthday party, I was serving at the Wheat Sheaff and he bumped into me on his way to the bathroom to vomit, as a result of the altercation he’d puked all over his own leather jacket. Later, to get it clean, he boiled the thing in a pot on his stove. After he boiled it the arms fell off and for a while he wore it as a sort of sleeveless leather vest.
I was going through a phase where I liked guys who were completely unavailable because it made me feel better when the romance ended in failure.
Nate was sitting in his blue Honda civic outside the house. He looked nervous and miserable in the driver’s seat, which was the way he usually looked. He’d always had a bit of a panic disorder. I shot him my most alluring over-the-shoulder glance. “Just drive. Anywhere.”
He blinked at me apologetically, even though he was the one who should have been furious. “I can’t.”
“I ran out of gas.”
“I ran out of gas.”
“Right here.” He turned the key in the ignition and it sputtered pathetically, an angry sound. He slid down in his seat. There was something red and grainy on his collar. Chutney.
I smiled a little bit in his direction and he scowled back at me. Part of me loved him for running out of gas outside my Father’s house. There’s something irresistible about a man who can emerge from constant failure unscathed.
“I guess we’ll just have to talk then.” Nate and I didn’t have a lot of variation on our dates. First we would drive around until we got bored, then we would fool around, then finally I would prod him with uncomfortable questions about why he thought his life with Beth was preferable to a life with me. It was a routine we had both become comfortable with. Our last date was a little bit different. Last time we talked he told me he didn’t want to see me again. I told him if he didn’t meet me tonight I would tell Beth everything. It was all the leverage I had. I didn’t want to lose Nate–he made me laugh and if he got rid of Beth he would be the type of guy my Father would really like.
I’m primarily a playwright, but over the last six months I’ve been trying to write a collection of short stories that focuses on really pathetic female protagonists. I’m interested in girls who are weak, girls who will throw away all of their dignity in order to get what they want, and then regret their decisions five minutes later. I want to do this, while at the same time making the characters likeable, or at least sympathetic.
I’m particularly interested in stories about romance gone bad. There are a lot of people who will do crazy things when they feel heartbroken. I happen to be one of those people. Often in those situations it ends up being a self-aware crazy. I like idea of moments when feelings and rational thought don’t match up, and the strange actions that occur as a result of this incongruity.
I find that female characters are rarely allowed to be weak while still remaining likeable, which is a shame because generally I find weak, troubled characters much more compelling. I’ve read a lot of fiction where broken hearted men hole themselves up in cabins unable to interact with the world, drop everything and follow their lost loves across continents, lash out violently, grovel, scream, beg, and generally act inhuman while still remaining the character the reader feel closest too. Pathetic male protagonists are often very endearing.
Female protagonists are rarely allowed to act this way. Most female protagonists surrender to their loss stoically, resigning themselves to the outcome whether they can stand it or not. Sometimes they have responsibilities to attend to, they have children, or a career, or some other pressing matter that requires them not to appear overly emotionally inclined. Female protagonists can almost always find a reason to preserve their dignity and will only lose it if absolutely necessary to save themselves or others. They rarely see their own unhappiness as a free card to act like a mental patient and they rarely shirk commitments in order to be utterly selfish. Mostly, through troubles, they persevere.
I grew up feeling (and still to some extent do) entitled to my wants, as I expect many of my generation does. This feeling of entitlement is probably my very worst quality as a human being. When things don’t go my way, especially in a romantic situation, I feel as if the universe has robbed me in some unacceptable way. When trouble hits, I do not persevere. When trouble hits the rational part of my brain collapses.
When I feel jilted I’ll threaten suicide, violence, or to tell damaging secrets. If there’s nothing I can do to win my love back, I’ll attempt at all costs to make him feel as terrible as I do. The strange thing is, as I commit these acts, I recognize how ludicrous they are, how insane and awful I must seem, but I can never make myself stop. It’s only hours afterward that the embarrassment and shame kicks in.
I know that there are other girls out there like me and I’d like to believe that as whole we are not a terrible collection of people, perhaps too ruled by emotion, but otherwise well adjusted, caring and reasonably high functioning – some of us, anyhow.
Eventually I hope to have a collection of stories about girls who take the moral low ground, regret it, but can learn to live with themselves despite it.