Friday, March 12, 2010

The Good Detective

Short Story by M. John Harrison
Originally published in Interzone

From the age of 40 he had the feeling of being spread very thin on the world, like a specialized coating. If people weren't careful with him, he felt, if he wasn't careful with himself, he'd crack or peel or flake away. Then one day he was trying to understand the instructions for some household appliance and where it said 'How to Set Up the Timer' he read instead 'How to Let Things Slip.'

The central idea of this story is hiring a detective to find people who have "gone missing in their own lives." Middle-aged men who feel trapped, who want to reinvent themselves and just sort of space out of their life and family. It strikes me that men who have "gone missing" are described much as you'd describe a homeless person. I think that's the whole point.

The story is partly told to you in the second person. Lines like "she's just as compromised and vulnerable as you" and "I went missing from my own life years ago, but I don't need to tell you that." I think perhaps the detective is speaking to the reader, who is a man who has gone missing.

This is very British magic realism, and the reader's voice is great for it. One could read supernatural elements into it, but the conceit of the detective being hired and the fantastic (in both senses) imagery are enough to justify the inclusion of this story to me. It really hits hard, there is a lot of emotion contained in very few words and the ambiguity of the whole thing seems very appropriate: it makes me feel a bit lost and confused. 4.5 out of 5 midlife crises end in flames.

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