Short Stories 366:268 — “Elgin,” by Bryan Washington

coverAnd here we are at the end of Lot: Stories. Holy flying crap, this collection was amazing. I’ve mentioned it a few times, but throughout the collection, we return to a single (unnamed) man who begins the collection with his parents running a restaurant and his older brother and sister and himself living together. As the stories go by, this man loses people: his father walks out on the family, his brother joins the military and dies overseas, his sister meets a man and basically vanishes out of the family, his mother sells the restaurant, and now, by this story, the man is living in the house alone (his mother having moved to Louisiana). This is post-flood Houston, and he is filling his life with one-night-stands and working at a restaurant.

He has a friend he works with, Miguel, who is working hard to get enough money to send his family back to Guatemala, and the two clash as often as they click. The contrast between the two forms a kind of give-and-take throughout the story, until Miguel finally succeeds in having enough, and sends his family away—and does not go with them. Thereafter, there’s a kind of slow-motion shattering around both Miguel and the main character, their jobs, the man’s home, and we watch as the narrator, who seems to have had no one in his life who didn’t leave, comes to grips with potentially admitting he wants someone to stay.

Washington finally allows this narrator’s name to be said aloud in this story, as well as a few other moments that read as important breakthroughs (one of which is not a favourite narrative choice of mine, but in Washington’s hands it at least didn’t feel like a simple trope), and the whole ends the collection as perfectly as I could imagine any story might. It’s not definitive. It’s not overtly hopeful, but nor is it a possibility that things will continue on the path the narrator had put himself on: he has finally come too far for that. So in the end, he’s changed, and that is enough in and of itself. Alongside the one-two punch that was “Waugh” before it, “Elgin” definitely skews more to hopefulness. That we can choose to imagine even more positive outcomes for him with what Washington provides is indeed there, but I don’t mind a little ambiguity in my endings.

 

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