Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although he has published two novels, Ron Carlson is one of those rare writers who has remained true to the literary form he seems to love best and at which he excels—the much-maligned short story. “At the Jim Bridger” is the title story of his fourth collection, published in 2002.

Echoing many short-story writers before him, Carlson considers each story he writes an investigation and a surprise. For example, he has said that when the woman tells Rusty she has heard the wonderful story about the rescue, it surprised the writer himself, for he did not realize that he was writing a story about stories. In many ways, the nature of story is one of the predominant themes of “At the Jim Bridger.” The story Donner tells the woman who is not his wife about being caught in a snowstorm and saving Rusty by keeping him warm is what began their affair. Similarly, the story that Rusty tells Donner about losing his girl to his boss is a story that bonds them in the sleeping bag in the snow.

The woman’s love for Donner results in part from the story he tells her. However, when he sees Rusty’s pickup in the parking lot, he senses something false in his relationship with the woman, something not as genuine as the night in the sleeping bag with Rusty. That the erotic experience with Rusty seems more real than his sexual experience with the woman does not suggest that Donner has homosexual longings. His lying down flesh to flesh with Rusty is a...

(The entire section is 492 words.)