The Wedding

The Wedding
Cara Hoffman

    Cara Hoffman’s book The Wedding, published by Factory School, is a collection of seven short stories. Haunting and quiet, they feel like something from a gothic, female Kafka. Weeks after reading this book, the dark and delicate images of her characters and atmospheres still linger in my mind, residual and evocative. Any of these pieces could be made into a motion picture; the only problem would be to choose which one.

    The first story of the collection titled “Waking” shows two teenage, insomniac girls who are bored and generally unsatisfied waiting for something (perhaps anything) to happen; something bigger and better than life. They make silent films and stay up all night wandering the empty streets of their town. Boys flow through them, viewed as necessary objects or “coffee and aspirin,” something to distract them as they wait. The girls fantasize of finishing school quickly like ripping off a band-aid, writing books and working in orphanages or selling guns, living in silence with a chalkboard tied around their necks, or ideally just disappearing entirely:

    You can leave and never come back. You can stop speaking entirely and carry a little chalkboard with you on a rope around your neck. She laughed. Because you can see how everything here is something other than what it is, can’t you? Every blade of grass, every word, every inflection. Certainly you can see that now, she said. You can see that silence is the whiteness of the sheet in the basement. And that we are waiting.

    “The Mouse’s Sister” is a surreal story of a young mouse struggling with the ideology and practices of her culture and educational system. She is the sister of a mouse engaged in a top-secret project working to turn snow into food, a concept she knows will fail and is only a vain attempt at giving everyone something to believe in. She suffers physical and psychological trauma from witnessing a violent scene where a fellow mouse leashed and tortured a bumblebee after killing many others. Both the bee and the mouse were driven out of their sanity. The mouse eventually lunges the bee at the mouse’s sister, stabbing the stinger through her hand and pinning it to her shoulder. She is left with the bee now a dead shell hanging from her side. From this point on she is haunted by a nauseating smell of something decomposing and grave-like (a thick black infectious fluid that spills out her nose as she begins to heal). She struggles on through school fighting the mindless propaganda spewed out from her teacher’s mouth and searching for escape. Ultimately she purges herself from the fluid and escapes into the wild.

    “Childhood” is also one of the collection’s strongest stories. It is absurdist and humorous but with a dull note of painful disillusionment. The narrator begins the story; “It was my childhood dream to become either an alcoholic, or a very old man.” The young girl describes her home life from the perspective of a quiet, intellectual old man living with his daughter and son-in-law. She wears corduroy pants, oxford shirts, ties, and a pocket watch. She reads Ibsen, listens to swing music, drinks Grand Marnier, and misses the company of her old friends Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Man Ray. Her daughter brings her sandwiches cut into heart shapes while she jumps rope and sings “Miss Lucy had a Steam Boat.” She quits ballet lessons and begs her daughter/mother to put her in a nursing home where she could at least enjoy the company of her peers. It angers her when her son-in-law/father calls her “Beauty Rose” or “Daddy’s Little Girl.” She watches her children/parents decay into self-absorbed train wrecks as their marriage falls apart. She begins to drink more and gives up on most of her intellectual pursuits. “It wasn’t long before my son-in-law stopped talking to me altogether, I guess it was because I had raised his wife, and admittedly done such a poor job.” In the end we see a dejected eleven-year-old girl cooking her own food and drinking whatever wine she could find, alone in her parent’s house.

    These are beautifully poignant stories; I look forward to Hoffman’s next book.

-Claire Sammons 

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