Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the story’s title suggests, the characters’ lives are full of approximations. Jerry settles for an “approximation” when he buys the used Cadillac that he can afford instead of the new Lincoln Continental that his wife wants. As a stepfather Jerry is himself an approximation; he is not the perfect father of Melinda’s dreams but a shy steady man who is willing to take care of her. Some of the individual scenes are approximations. At the beginning of the story, for example, Melinda imagines her father holding Carol and closing his hand over her ear. At the end of the story Jerry embraces Melinda and holds his hand over her ear. Melinda’s imagined scene of her parents dancing is replaced by a real scene in which Carol and Jerry skate together. As Melinda matures, she gives up her fantasy of a perfect family, and learns to appreciate the “approximations” that are the realities of life.

Melinda fantasizes about her father and so longs to know him that she takes each small gesture of his affection and holds on to it tightly, hoping for a relationship with him. Disneyland is important to her only because it provides an opportunity for her to be with her father. She wants to share an egg with her father in the restaurant, but he prefers not to share. When they walk together hand in hand, it is John who releases Melinda’s hand. After a number of disappointments, Melinda realizes that she will never be a part of her father’s life.

This is the story of a young girl coming of age in a fragmented family. With an absent father and a critical, self-absorbed mother, Melinda is shut off from a normal family life. In a number of scenes Carol shows a callous disregard for Melinda’s feelings. When they go to California in order for Melinda to meet her father for the first time, Carol monopolizes his time, first by fighting with him, later by sleeping with him. When she closes the door, she leaves Melinda alone on the couch. At the skating rink, Carol is so absorbed with Jerry that she forgets to give Melinda the cue to begin skating, and Melinda falls on the ice. This is, however, also a story of survival, and Melinda survives in spite of her mother’s selfishness and her father’s indifference.