‘‘How I Contemplated the World From the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life Over Again’’ was first published in magazine form in 1969 and then collected in her 1970 volume of short stories called The Wheel of Love. Its sarcastic rendering of upper-middle-class suburban life is not only an accurate critique of that aspect of American life, it is also a true rendering of the adolescent world view that rings as true today as it did when the story was written.
The story’s experimental form seemed lifeless to some early critics, but has proven to have given the story literary staying power. The full title, ‘‘Notes for an Essay for an English Class at Baldwin Country Day School; Poking Around in Debris; Disgust and Curiosity; A Revelation of the Meaning of Life; A Happy Ending . . . ,’’ invites readers to compare the prediction for a happy ending with the story the narrator tells at the end. Given her gift for sarcasm, is she telling the truth when she claims to ‘‘love everything’’ once she’s returned to the safety, if sterile, of her parents’ large suburban home? In the case of ‘‘How I Contemplated,’’ ambiguity and incompleteness in the narrative add to rather than detract from the story’s richness.