I recently took a break from reading novels to catch up on the pile of magazines that I had to read. Down in the stack, in Shroud #10 from Autumn 2010, I read the best story I’ve read in quite awhile: “Georgie” by Robert Ford. Go online right now, go to www.shroudmagazine.com, order the issue and read the story.
It’s okay, I’ll wait.
Alright, I hope you went and read the story, because what follows is why I think this story is so great, including spoilers. If you read right through, don’t say I didn’t warn you or give you plenty of opportunity to stop reading.
Okay, here it goes.
The story is written in first person, which is always kind of sketchy for me. First person narration just has the potential to limit a story so much because the reader only gets that one character’s part of the story. However, in “Georgie,” the final horror comes from, and depends on, the reader only getting one perspective through the story. I’ll come back to that in a bit.
In the opening section, Mr. Ford gave me what I thought would be the full arc of the story’s narrative. The narrator’s son has died. If that was it, the narrator laments, he and his wife probably wouldn’t have divorced. No, the narrator’s wife leaves him because the son comes back – as what, we don’t know yet. But we want to know.
Back to first person narration for a moment: one of the reasons that it often doesn’t work for me is because of how dry it is. But Mr. Ford writes the narration conversationally, almost as if the narrator was sitting there, telling me the story.
So, Georgie’s back, but that doesn’t seem to be the point of the story as the narrator flashes back on how he met his wife, Maria. Georgie comes back into the story during the next two flashbacks when the narrator tells us how Maria told him she was pregnant and then that Georgie was stillborn, the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, and that the doctor brought him back, seemingly through force of will alone, since I’ve never heard of anyone being resuscitated by a smack on the ass (but we can forgive Mr. Ford, can’t we?).
If I had edited this story, I would have suggested that Mr. Ford flip sections five and six. When I first read the story, I was confused by the insertion of section five where it is. I read it as a consequence of Georgie being stillborn, which didn’t make any sense. Then, it dawned on me that it’s the Georgie that came back who is in his room throwing things and making a ruckus. Section six flashes back on what Georgie was like as a kid, a good kid, and ends with the line, “Nothing at all like what he is now.” That line, I think, would have set up section five nicely. Instead, section seven is another flashback about what Georgie was like, expanding his character to explain why Halloween was his favorite holiday.
Even with the snafu in ordering, these sections are effective for me because they’re short and sweet, a father reminiscing about what he loved most about his dead son punctuated by his fear and trepidation caused by his returned son.
Section eight is the longest and is about how Georgie dies on Halloween, which flows nicely from section seven. This is where the story changes subtly from general reminisces to a detailed play-by-play. Georgie’s death is requisitely gruesome, swallowing a razor hidden inside an apple he received while trick-or-treating. But what makes this scene true horror isn’t that Georgie dies, but that he dies having lost all faith in Daddy, the guy who can fix anything and make any boo-boo all better.
Section nine is how I thought the story would end: Georgie’s ghost is haunting the narrator, its physical manifestations growing stronger; Maria has left; the narrator is trapped in the house by his knowledge that Georgie will never leave him and the fear of what Georgie will do if he commits suicide. See, one of the things that I like about this story is Mr. Ford’s implied idea that life and afterlife coexist and that the difference between the two states is what protects the living. Since this is what the story promised in its first section, the story of the narrator’s wife leaving him because their son came back from the dead, I would have considered it a good story, good, not great, had it ended there.
But it didn’t.
The narrator continues to empathize with his son’s loneliness. In a desperate plan to redeem himself in his son’s eyes, the narrator comes up with a plan to get Georgie a playmate by making “special” treats for Halloween this year. The narrator sees this as his obligation as Daddy, the guy who fixes things. The story’s concluding horror depends on the flawed thinking of the
That’s what really got me about this story. It delivers on its promised horror, then gives a final turn of the screw, which is what stayed with me days and weeks after reading the story, just as a good story should. Well done, Mr. Ford!
Now, if you didn’t read the story before reading my little review here, shame on you! But don’t worry, the story’s still worth reading, I think. Plus, this issue of Shroud has plenty of other good stories to keep you reading, including “Three Doors” by Norman Partridge, “Red Lantern” by Althea Kontis, and “Almost Paradise” by Jeremy C. Shipp, a surprising little story about humanity’s one day a year when they’re allowed to be bad.