Tag Archives: reader response

Reader Response: The Third Dumpster (Jen Gish)

In The Third Dumpster, Gish Jen uses the contrast of dialogue and thought—direct method—to provide complexity to her characters, which in turn makes them interesting. Goodwin and Morehouse Lee are unemployed, ex-contractor brothers doing their best to fix up an extremely run-down house that they acquired for free so that their parents might have a more easily navigable home to live in. An important theme that keeps this story moving forward is the fact that the Lees are a Chinese family, and despite the parents having lived in America for 50+ years, the Chinese traditions are still extremely important to them.

This detail provides the motivation for the story itself, as the Lee brothers had attempted to fix their parents up in an old folk’s home but were unsuccessful due to the “Western food,” which provided enough of a reason for the Lee parents to decline the option. With this premise at the forefront, the Lee brothers appear to be extremely patient and loving children who will stop at nothing to give their parents the comfort and safety of a new, ranch-style home. As the story progresses, however, it becomes clear through a number of thoughts presented that these boys aren’t as angelic as they first seem to be.

By the second page, suspicions are definitely aroused about the boys’ mission. Despite being in a recession, one that has clearly affected them personally, they are still moving forward with the house flipping process, even stooping to the level of illegally dumping asbestos-ridden debris into a dumpster that belongs to another construction site. They hire illegal Guatemalans for cheap labor, endangering their health. They complete the electrical wiring of the house without being certified in that department, hinting that their parents might not really be that safe in their new house.

At one point the question is posed from brother to brother, “What choice do we have?” On the last page of the story, the answer is given in a thought that neither son will speak, “you guys could come live with me.” Leading up to this point, Jen has done a clean job of depicting reasons why the Lee brothers would not want to extend this offer to their parents; for example, the berating imaginary dialogue filled with disapproval from their parents. It seems both boys have struggled to escape this treatment in their adult lives and perhaps had successfully done so until their parents’ age became an unavoidable issue.

Even in the last couple paragraphs of the story, Jen contrasts Morehouse’s thoughts with the dialogue he might have with his mother, “nodding and nodding” at her remarks, “even as he went on building.” While there is a lot more to analyze within this story, I think it is a great example of using contrasting thought vs. dialogue to create complex characters, difficult situations, and a very believable conundrum for the family presented.

 

Word Count: 485

Reader Response: Miss Lora (Junot Diaz)

There is an important ambiguity in the first sentence of Miss Lora that is most easily spotted by the glaring question mark with which it ends, but the uncertainty extends far beyond the obvious signifier.

“Years later, you would wonder if it hadn’t been for your brother, would you have done it?”

From the content of this question alone, Díaz creates the base upon which a story is built that invites a variety of intellectual levels and personal connections to find what they might within. A first read of Miss Lora provides countless images that adhere to the reader’s memory, be it from personal association, surprise, fear, excitement, distaste or some other unforgettable connection—the language of the piece is powerful and commands one’s attention so that even a non-Spanish-comprehending reader understands the impact, if not the meaning, of the foreign words that Díaz integrates throughout. With so many ambiguous, relatable subjects available—sex, teen pregnancy, education, poverty, disadvantage, cancer, war, death—readers might miss the potential implications of the very first sentence of the story.

Narrator Yunior’s self-analytical “would you have done it?” prompts a small, anecdotal reflection about the woman for whom the story is named, which precedes the more comprehensive story placing Miss Lora within the context of his world. Regarding Miss Lora, Yunior’s now deceased brother, Rafa, had once said “I’d fuck her;” this is dually important as it provides a potential stamp of approval for Yunior’s ultimately sexual relationship with Miss Lora and allows a sliver of someone he loves to continue existing through his decision to engage in the tryst.

There is also an aspect of the opening question that implicates Miss Lora’s motivations for seducing the narrator, which is bolstered by details scattered throughout. “You know you look like your brother,” Miss Lora tells Yunior after they have sex. “She is always trying to get you to talk about your brother,” Yunior says of Miss Lora, who “goes right for [Rafa’s] boxing gloves” when she is staying with Yunior at his house; “she pushes them into her face, smelling them,” which is something that a person does when they miss or enjoy a smell, indicating that Miss Lora knew Rafa’s scent. The reader furthermore learns that Rafa had been sleeping with another older woman from the boys’ neighborhood, and the possibility is apparent that Rafa may have been involved with Miss Lora before he died.

“Years later, you would wonder if it hadn’t been for your brother, would you have done it?”

Is the narrator asking himself this question from the perspective in which he had forged a connection that allowed him to keep Rafa alive? Or is he wondering if he would have had the opportunity to be involved with Miss Lora if he had never had a brother at all?

Miss Lora can be read, accepted, and rejected by a reader in so many ways—it feels as though I would never read it the same way twice.