Tiny, Smiling Daddy [Tea Tales]

> Tea Tales > Books > nothing found.

It’s time to change that.

This is one of the few opinion pieces that wasn’t written or enjoyed along with tea. I suppose that somewhat defeats the purpose of the exercise, but I don’t have a better name for a series, and I’m certainly not willing to change just for this off chance. I do have to admit though, that out of all the writing I’ve put up on this blog, I never talked about anyone else’s. Being a narcissist doesn’t excuse such neglect. Frankly, beauty should be shared with the world. Do note that this I don’t actually do literature review all that often, and especially ones not involving a competition of some sort. I’d usually spend that time writing something of my own. Regardless, if there ever was a chance to do something like that, it’d be now.

The piece in question is ‘Tiny, Smiling Daddy’ by Mary Gaitskill. You can read it for yourself here. It’s a short story. I came across it looking over ‘The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories’, a compilation by Ben Marcus. I won’t comment on the anthology itself, but clearly it means that it’s a short story we’re looking at today. Frankly I haven’t found myself with ample enough time to sit down and enjoy a good novel in a while, so I have to make due with short stories. This isn’t saying that they’re inferior in anyways, but I’m just needlessly reminiscing over a period of my life when I had so much free time. Then again I also didn’t enjoy social freedom and was not a legal, so let’s not talk about that.

This is the first time I’ve read something from Mary Gaitskill, but it certainly would not be the last. Published in 1997, two decades have given readers quite a bit of perspective. Now I’m not going to pretend like I was conscious of what 1997 was like in America, but I could imagine. The story is about a father (henceforth simply The Father), and his overall relationship with his lesbian daughter, from when she was young until she became quite a bit older. I’m not going to summarise it here, because I actually want you to read it for yourself. It’s a fairly short story, but definitely not bite-sized for those who do not frequent pieces like this in general. Being honest, if you’ve only have time to either read the story or read this blog post, just read the story. Your opinion is more important to you than mine.

In case you’re still here, I’ll keep on. The story, being mostly a string of thoughts from the Father, felt like it was trying to evoke a degree of understanding. This was done mostly through the protagonist’s own projection of his views and assertiveness onto others. It’s not something rare, but nevertheless indicative of the story. It wasn’t going to be long. There wouldn’t be too much of a plot, or a conflict with immediate action. Instead, there were mostly internalised banter and recollection.  That said, Mary certainly did a good job of making the conflict seem more urgent than it actually was. The Father, a stubborn and frankly violent man, was set out to do something. He wasn’t good with people or being noticed by people. The irony was actually hilarious. He blamed his daughter for making her thoughts of him public, despite knowing his condition. This was of course in blinding ignorant to the fact that he never considered hers. The Father was quite a character, it showed.

What I liked about how he was portrayed is that the writer never felt the need to push anything on to the reader. The Father was allowed to be himself, to the utmost degree, without a trace of retaliation. No one told him what to do. It was his own surfacing fears and past doings that determined how he was. We can decide for ourselves how we wanted to feel about him. There’s no spoonfed agenda, instead just our own perception. Personally, it was both saddening and comical to see how hard he struggled, when his intentions was just to get to a store and buy a magazine. He blamed his wife for not being back the exact moment he wanted. He blamed his friend for telling him something he ought to have known. He, naturally, blamed his daughter for pretty much everything else.

Actions were also depicted handily. Despite there not being an actual conflict, we still feel a sense of urgency through the way the Father respond to new information, as well as his process of digging up old ones. A plot was certainly happening, but much more exposition. There was so many factors at work. The author certainly had a view, but would rather portray that of the Father’s. After all, this story was written in 1997, things have changed since then. It’s been a while, for the story and for the Father.

There was, however, definitely a transformation present. It’s not necessarily that of the Father, as he seemed rather unapologetic and stubborn as ever. Instead, it’s the perception of the readers that’s hopefully undergoing a change. It shows why the Father is how he is now, and the less forgivable things he’s done. His being wrong does not make anyone else right, of course, but it’s worth a thought as always.

There’s not much left for me to say. Frankly the story was rather short. Again, I strongly advise you to actually read it, as that would be a much better experience than reading this pre-mortem. Regardless, this is where we part ways yet again. I actually had a bit more planned out, but I must say I am in quite the rush.

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