Monday, March 12, 2012

Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan (03.08.12): "Shotgun Wedding" by Bonnie Jo Campbell

The protagonist of “Shotgun Wedding” started with a simple observation regarding her younger sister’s soon-to-be-husband: Clearly this groom is more accustomed to lugging hay bales and veal calves … and for whatever reason, as I listened to the author, Bonnie Jo Campbell, read her short story I couldn’t help but stare at my dishpan hands resting in my lap and wonder: If I had had more of a bad boy image, if I were a Neanderthal, a knuckle-dragger, would my marriage have survived? Fortunately, this momentary thought faded when the woman next to me said, “Isn’t she wonderful? I just started reading ‘Once Upon a River.’”

Campbell gets at the cold harsh reality of Holy Matrimony with the juxtaposition of both sisters: the young bride having the temperament of Cinderella and her older sister, the narrator, having the survival instinct of Annie Oakley. Here are a few keen observations from the protagonist: I look away, to the pastor who looms over this procedure with the gravity of a hangman ... or I’m letting my sister down by being sucked into her fairy tale … or (and this description of a passing glance with the bride may have unsettled the audience a bit) … she catches my eyes full of tears and my mouth set grimly in the memory of shooting my first raccoon dead outside the chicken house, of the shot picking its body up off the ground and slamming it against the barn wall.

Soon there’s a seamless transition from the wedding scene to an intruder scene at the farmhouse—a flashback—where the narrator protects her sister and herself from an intruder:

My father had told me to shoot a man anywhere on the abdomen, because I couldn’t miss at close range, and the twelve gauge at close range would tear a man apart. When I’d shot that first raccoon outside the chicken house its body turned inside out.

Interestingly enough, the intruder has some of the same characteristics and qualities as the groom in the story—a ruggedness that dissipates once he’s staring at the unidentifiable roundness of the end of the shotgun barrel … where the protagonist thinks … he might have seen his own self turned inside out.

Maybe because I’m a man, or maybe because I made that lengthy journey to and from the altar, or maybe because I lost so much after the divorce … hell, I don’t know … maybe I’ve been “turned inside out” because Campbell’s last scene of “Shotgun Wedding” is so hauntingly familiar, as if I’m running from the church in an attempt at shedding my old skin, my old civilized ways, as if the protagonist not only succeeds in that moment of protecting her younger sister, but has me dead in her sight: I held the gun up long after the man turned and walked down the steps and ran across our frozen lawn toward the road.

Whatever my feelings, I enjoyed listening to Bonnie Jo Campbell. Her short stories, as well as her novels, are definitely worth reading.

by JR's Thumbprints


  1. Enjoyed the review. Will need to read more of her works. MW

  2. Huck's gang here. Enjoyed your take on her story and your writing looks as if you got
    that "spunk and spasm relief thing going?"
    Your smile is contagious. Keep up the good work
    on all fronts!!!! Samuel would be proud.

  3. Have to reel the gang in again JR. Sounds like they were partying at the Oxbow last night. Enjoyed your review. Have to agree with the gang though your writing reflects your "vim and vigor." Must be from the running?
    :) Huck


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