Monday, January 24, 2011

Reader's Diary #682- Dorothy Parker: A Telephone Call

I'm almost ashamed to admit this because I'm normally not a superstitious person. However, for the past half a year or so, I've been hounded by the number 11. Yes, this is where I reveal that I'm loony tunes. Bonkers. Off the rails.

It seems that every time I feel the need to check the clock, it's always 11 past the hour. 6:11, 9:11, 2:11. Why is this? I look up and ack! There's that 11 again. I'm a rational person. I've come up with theories. Maybe I'm just noticing the 11s more. Somewhere along the way it happened for a day or two just as a series of coincidences, my mind noticed it, and now looks for it and ignores all those times I probably look up and see that it's 2:30 or 4:19 or whatever. Or maybe my internal clock and my subconscious are tag-teaming like a couple of practical jokesters. I don't buy into numerology and am pretty skeptical about anything considered supernatural, but I still found myself checking the internet to see if anyone else had experienced such a thing. It turns out that a few people feel plagued by 9:11 or 11:11, but no one else reports on all 11 pasts. Silly I know, but come Nov 11th, 2011 at 11:11, while the rest of you are having your minute of silence for the fallen war heroes, I'm likely to be hiding under my bed.

Why bring this up now? It's not the 11th after all. It's that Dorothy Parker touches on superstition in her short story "A Telephone Call." In this simply premised story, a woman is driving herself crazy waiting for a phone call from her boyfriend. She's a pretty pathetic individual, too caught up in the dating game, the "proper" roles of men and women, too dependent on her man. Still, I'm sure many of us have found ways to go against our better instincts when it comes to dating rituals (God, how I don't miss those days). I think that's what makes the character in Parker's story so compelling and yet grating at the same time. We see ourselves and yet defend ourselves by suggesting this character is a parody of our most pathetic moments, the slope we fear slipping down.

Parker's narrator is capable of rational thought. Perhaps he's not calling because he's lost interest, perhaps he meant for her to call him, perhaps he's too busy, perhaps he simply forgot. But in her desperation she also turns to superstition. If she doesn't think about it, he'll call. If she counts to 500 by 5s, maybe that would work. And she also tries bargaining with God.

With the superstition and the emphasis on the woman's moment of pathetic hopelessness, I first thought that Parker was making a pretty bold statement about faith in God. Was she implying that faith was as silly as superstition? Possibly, but then maybe she's poking more fun at the way some people practice their religion rather than faith itself. I'm not sure.

In any case, "A Telephone Call" is an interesting, funny, sad and annoying story all at once. It doesn't really go anywhere, but that's sort of the point.

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


Anonymous said...

Nova Scotia it is this week!…istair-macleod/

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I wouldn't call her either, if she goes on and on like that about every little thing.

Allison said...

At 11:11 do you make a wish? I always do.

John Mutford said...

Emeire: How many provinces left to go?

Barbara: I know! "It's not me, it's you."

Allison: No, never heard of that one before. But I will now!

Anonymous said...

I only just started! 11!
All week your review has been waiting unread in my reader; didn't have time to read it when I visited on Monday...
I'm not sure this story tempts me; it seems quite annoying...