Monday, January 17, 2011

Reader's Diary #680- Lawrence Hill: Meet You at the Door

The first time I visited Ontario with my wife, who was from there, I heard her sigh one night after hearing a train blow in the distance. She hadn't realized that after moving to Newfoundland for university, she'd been missing the sound-- a comfortable, soothing sound that reminded her of falling asleep as a young girl. While it wasn't a familiar sound to me, I could relate. My childhood comfort sound was the foghorn.

This week I found myself once more relating to an unfamiliar train story. Lawrence Hill's "Meet You at the Door," in the most recent edition of The Walrus revolves around a young mixed race man who is relatively new on his job as a train operator. Note, this is not the same as a conductor. A train operator works as a go-between, relaying messages back and forth between a dispatcher and a conductor. The way I've described it here doesn't sound too stressful, but Hill does a great job of showing just how wrong that is.

As I said, I can relate. For a brief time I found myself working in ops (operations) for an airline in Iqaluit. Pilots would radio in and tell me when they expected to arrive, I'd arrange a parking spot and for cargo handlers. They'd leave and I'd record their pushback times, estimated arrival times in their next destination, and record everything. Again, doesn't sound too stressful. And in all honesty, it probably wasn't as stressful as Joel Williams's job in Hill's story, who seemed not only to take on operations, but the equivalent of air traffic as well, which, thank God, I didn't do. However there were days... oh man, there were days... let's just say, when personalities clashed, when a typo didn't seem so minor, when I felt shot as the middleman, and when the cheap flight perks just didn't seem worth it. I can't imagine adding personal trauma and race conflicts into the equation. But that out of the equation, I feel I can safely say, Hill got it right.

And though it had a lot of autobiographical stuff in it, I think Hill's power of description should be commended. I can't say the same for the plot, which seemed to be somewhat unfocused and ended on a forced feel good note.

Fortunately, the great descriptions, the rich characters, and the setting, were enough to save the story.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


JoAnn said...

Stories that you relate to on a person level are the best, and can make you look the other way when it comes to other shortcomings. Glad to hear this was good.

A book of Tolstoy short stories came my way, and I'm enjoying them more than I thought:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure this one is for me.

Unfortunately, I had a very busy week end studying and didn't get a chance to read and review a story (and I'm absorbed by The Birth House...).
'Till next week!

Teddy Rose said...

Too bad the plot didn't hold up. It still sounds worthwhile to me. I'll have to check it out.

I read 'The Doll's House:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm quite intrigued to read this one, actually. Almost as intrigued I would be to hear your tales from the the front.