Reader Response: The Chair (David Means)

In David Means’ The Chair, readers learn about Bob Allison, his wife, Sharon, and their son, Gunner (along with an assortment of minor parent characters) through the thoughts of Bob Allison, himself. Bob seems to be an earnest, passionate man, a loving father, an intelligent being, and a worrier. Sharon is portrayed by her husband as a beautiful woman, a workaholic, and a liar, potentially having an affair with another man or just with the city of Manhattan. There is a sense that she is the family realist while Bob is the dreamer, which may or may not be a product of his occupation as a stay-at-home father. Gunner seems to function as both a source and recipient of his father’s love, as well as philosophical prompting device, and, potentially, a wedge driving between the stability of his parents, as separates and individuals.

Each character has a very distinct function in this story, driving the “plot” forward. On the forefront, there is Gunner who is literally forcing his father to chase after him as he daringly heads towards a retaining wall in their back yard. In this scene, there are also the birds that seem to prompt both Gunner and Bob to observe and think certain things according to their sounds and movements.

In another storyline that overlaps Gunner and Bob’s outdoor excursion, Bob procures multiple scenes that revolve around his wife’s movements to and from the city of Manhattan. Her commute, which involves driving and taking the train, is discussed. Her tendency to arrive home after the expected time, as of late, is mentioned in a way that is simultaneously expected and untraditional; it seems, throughout the rest of the story, that Bob is less fearful of his wife cheating on him with another man than he is jealous of her “grown-up” world in the city that he is not a part of. It is implied, through Bob’s deep understanding (verging on recollection) of life in the city, that perhaps he was forced to sacrifice his own career and world in Manhattan with the arrival of his son. Sharon is portrayed as a woman who was not willing to stop working to raise her child, and Bob assumes a life of martyrdom, “willing” to raise Gunner, but obviously unfulfilled at times, as seen in his imagining following Sharon to work.

I think the use of movement throughout this story is extremely well executed. Not only is it functioning on multiple levels, but also it is so well intertwined with the characters that Means has created a very realistic slice of how the momentum of life can quickly pull a person into a life that they never imagined, and somehow also in slow-motion. There are contradictory paces being presented at once with the layering of actions and thoughts and imagination that really encompasses the complexity of the moment when you realize that this is your life; your son’s life. I wish I had more room to talk about this one.

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