(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“First, Body” portrays people for whom the American Dream is merely a phrase. The events are seen through the eyes of Sid Elliott, who, although struggling to find his own way, still reaches out to others.

In a city park, Sid, an emergency-room attendant of eight months, encounters Roxanne, a forty-nine-year-old woman who has stopped using heroin but still abuses alcohol. Sid no longer drinks but smokes marijuana. Roxanne goes with him to his home, a one-room loft in a warehouse, where she remains a number of months.

Both have suffered physically and psychologically. Roxanne started drinking at age nine, acquired a drug habit, and left her daughter because “it got too hard, dragging the kid around.” Sid, big and clumsy as a child and as an adult, is psychologically scarred by a war, unnamed but clearly Vietnam. Mostly what he wants from Roxanne is for her to stay. Roxanne, in an expression of support for him, quits drinking but smokes more cigarettes, several packs a day. After two months together and thirty-nine days of abstinence from alcohol, she returns to whiskey and to life on the streets. She comes back beaten up, and Sid is there to offer her comfort, food, and cigarettes, but it is not enough, and she leaves again. He imagines her in the street people he meets: The man who sifts through the trash for food, the fifteen-year-old prostitute, and the woman whose bloated body was retrieved from the river.

After being criticized for dropping a sterilized...

(The entire section is 613 words.)