No Trace Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On June 4, 1968, graduation day at Melbourne College in the Midwest, Gordon Foster, valedictorian of his class, has set off a grenade, killing himself and others at the ceremony. His father, Ernest Foster, now climbs the stairs to his dead son’s dormitory room—which had been his own room at the college some twenty years earlier. He will enter ahead of the police in order to piece together reasons, if possible, for his son’s actions.

The room is replete with psychedelic paint, beer-can pyramids, records in orange crates, colored lights, underground books, and rock music posters. The father, under the influence of a sedative, searches quickly through the remnants of the last four years of his son’s life—understanding, misunderstanding, and unable to understand what has happened and why.

Most puzzling of all seems to be his son’s relation with his roommate of four years, Jason Carter. Ernest learns that his son has been sleeping in Jason’s bed, reading his books, and wearing his clothes. The father discovers any number of items that shock him: semen on his son’s sheets, vomit on both his and his roommate’s clothes, a picture of Jesus Christ that has been used as a dart board, and irrefutable proof that his son has plagiarized his senior thesis. What troubles the father most, however, is the fact that he can find the letters that Lydia, his wife, sent to Gordon, but not those that he himself sent.

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(The entire section is 567 words.)