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Last Updated on July 12, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

"People Like That Are the Only People Here" is a work of metafiction, fiction in which the author draws attention to the artificiality of the text by referencing the writing process or otherwise departing from conventions or traditions of the genre. The story's protagonist, "the Mother," is a writer—evidently quite...

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"People Like That Are the Only People Here" is a work of metafiction, fiction in which the author draws attention to the artificiality of the text by referencing the writing process or otherwise departing from conventions or traditions of the genre. The story's protagonist, "the Mother," is a writer—evidently quite a successful one—and it is she who, purportedly, writes this story herself in order to earn money to pay for her baby's kidney cancer treatment. The story begins when the Mother finds a blood clot in her child's diaper, and she takes him to the doctor immediately to get him checked out.

The baby endures a radiology scan, and he is diagnosed with a Wilms' tumor, a malignant growth that requires both surgery and chemotherapy. Throughout this process, the Mother is struck by the demeanor of the medical professionals with whom she speaks: they are all oddly casual and nonchalant, while it feels as though her world is crumbling around her. When she tells her husband the news, he asks her to "Take Notes," and he wants her to write this whole experience down as a text that she can sell; they will need the money, he says, to pay for their son's treatment. She is a little horrified by this idea because it is their life.

The Mother is struggling with her guilt—fearing that the baby's illness is somehow her fault—and feeling like she needs to fit in with the other mothers in the Pediatric Oncology (or "Peed Onk") ward. She moves quickly into trying to bargain with God for the life of her child. The baby makes it through the surgery, and the Mother cuddles him through the tubes and cords to which he is attached. She notices that a suction tube appears to be pulling blood from his stomach and learns that the doctor had it on "high" rather than "low" despite it nearly sucking the life from another boy not long before this. The Mother talks to the parents of other Peed Onk patients, simultaneously heartened and horrified by their children's stories.

Because of the type of tumor her son had, the Mother's family is offered an alternative to chemo that is newer—less is known about it—but it could save her baby from the negative effects of chemo that other parents have warned her about. The Mother is eager to take this alternative, and the family packs up the healing child and leaves the hospital. In the end, our attention is again directed to the artificiality of the story, its difference from what may or may not actually have happened, when the Mother says, "These are the notes. Now where is the money?"

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 657

“People Like That Are the Only People Here” is told in the third person through the perspective of a mother who discovers that her baby has cancer. The principal characters and the doctors are not named. The mother is a writer who must use her utmost intellectual and emotional resources to get through her baby’s radical nephrectomy in a pediatric oncology unit at a children’s hospital.

With little warning other than the baby’s appearing to be slightly ill, the mother discovers a blood clot in her baby’s diaper. She phones a nearby pediatric clinic and is urged to bring the child in right away. After a quick examination, the baby is whisked away to the radiology unit. The surgeon soon appears to announce that the baby has a cancerous tumor, requiring a radical nephrectomy and possibly chemotherapy.

The husband’s response, although alarmed, is practical. The first thing that he tells his wife is to take notes, and then he begins to worry about money. He soon attempts to devise a step-by-step plan for them to get through the ordeal. The husband is not cold; he simply talks and acts in a way that might be expected of a man.

The mother, however, is not one to take such a practical, mechanical approach. Her next impulse is to turn to God, in whom she does not firmly believe. Her god ends up looking a lot like the manager of Marshall Field’s, and as such, she initially attempts to bargain with him. The manager of Marshall Field’s (now God) offers the mother only the reassurances she might easily glean from fiction-writing techniques: One cannot know the narrative of his or her life in advance; there must be surprises or otherwise it is not life; the idea that anyone really has a clue about how the world works is laughable.

The husband continues to urge his wife to take notes, even to write a piece of nonfiction or journalism for money. The mother initially balks at the idea, but she does begin to note things (the reader never sees her actually writing). She notes that nearly all cancer victims in the pediatric oncology unit are males. They come from deceptively sweet-sounding towns like Janesville or Appleton, places undoubtedly poisoned by agricultural and industrial pollutants. The mother notes the dress and demeanor of the other cancer patients’ mothers; she initially feels alienated from the large, cheerful women. The mother hears the usual platitudes such as “one day at the time” but finds little comfort in them.

Before the operation, the surgeon tells the parents that this tumor is not particularly aggressive but that it does tend to metastasize on the lungs. This cancer, the surgeon assures them, is the best kind of cancer that the baby could have. The mother and the husband are left to get through the last day before surgery. In a hospital lounge, they hear many war stories from the other parents who are battling the cancers of their children. These parents have pulled through the first shocking diagnoses, multiple hospitalizations, and even comas brought on by chemotherapy. The mother has momentary thoughts of hopping a bus and running away, but she is grounded by these parents who have suffered for a long time without allowing themselves to fall apart.

The baby’s tumor turns out to be relatively minor (for cancer, that is), and the parents are allowed the option of careful monitoring rather than chemotherapy. On the way out of the hospital, one mother offers the consolation that there is a great deal of collateral beauty in their experiences. The mother is too distracted to consider collateral beauty at this time; she just wants to get herself and the baby out of the hospital as quickly as possible. However, in the last lines of the story, she suggests that the story itself is her notes on this experience.

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