Study Guide

Approximations

by Mona Simpson

Approximations Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Melinda imagines a scene in which her parents are holding each other closely as they dance to music. She has had this same fantasy since she was four years old, when she learned that the man in the black-and-white photograph was her father. She has no real memories of her father, only this fantasy. When Melinda once asked her mother where her father was, her mother replied vaguely, telling her that her father was gone but would be back sometime. Melinda remembers other people asking about her father, but she has never met him.

Melinda’s mother, Carol, refuses to face reality, drifting along, waiting for Melinda’s father to return. Melinda and Carol are now used to living alone. On Saturday nights they dress in identical outfits and go ice-skating together. Carol points to the empty seats, telling Melinda that when she is older she can bring boys there to watch her skate so that they will know that she is more than simply another pretty girl, that she can really do something. Carol’s advice to her daughter emphasizes physical appearance and the importance of attracting men.

Melinda first hears from her father, John, in 1963, when he calls from Las Vegas to invite her and her mother to join him at Disneyland. When Melinda finally sees him, she finds that he is an ordinary balding man. He works as a waiter in a hotel restaurant and shares an apartment with three roommates. He introduces her to his friends, making Melinda feel that he is proud of her. As he touches her hair, she thinks that she loves him blindly. He gives her a cheap package of headbands, but she is so pleased with this token of her father’s love that she does not even open the package.

When Carol asks John when they will go to Disneyland, he replies that he has lost the money “on the tables.” This revelation provokes a fight, but they sleep together in the bedroom that night while Melinda sleeps on a couch in the living room.

The next morning Melinda and her father have breakfast at a coffee shop. At his invitation she tastes her father’s soft-boiled egg and then tells him how good it is, hoping to share it with him. Instead of sharing the egg, however, her father orders another one for her. He...

(The entire section is 909 words.)