Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511

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The subtitle to this short story—“A Type of Love Story”—should cause the reader to expect a problematic tale even before the narrative has begun. Russell Banks may be asking the reader to decide, along with his hesitant narrator, Ron, if this strange relationship in any way constitutes love. Certainly that seems to be one of the problems with which Ron continually wrestles, as throughout the story Banks allows his narrator to wander back and forth between a kind of single-minded intensity regarding his attraction to the homely Sarah, and an almost irritating indecisiveness concerning his own motivations.

By focusing his characterizations on two physically opposite types—the handsome Ron and the repugnant Sarah—Banks both questions and subverts the issue of physical attraction in a relationship. In a “typical” love story the idea of opposites attracting, then finding unexpected love, might surely be viewed as romantic; however, here Ron’s continual questioning of his own motivations, coupled with Banks’s constant realistic portrayal of the stark differences between Sarah and Ron, act to refocus this, in other ways, innocent picture of Ron’s and Sarah’s newfound love. As their relationship matures, then begins to unravel, the reader may feel the need to go beyond the issue of looks to find an answer to the characters’ difficulties.

It may be easier to see how Sarah could be attracted to the younger and more handsome Ron, whose attraction to Sarah is as much a puzzle to him as it is to the reader. He is candid to the point of insensitivity when he describes his initial reactions to Sarah’s homely appearance, and later, even as he finds himself attracted to her, he makes unflattering comments about her “dough-colored skin” and “thick, short body.”

It is only after Ron and Sarah have been making love together for some time that the real differences between them start to surface. It becomes more and more clear that Ron and Sarah are simply from two different worlds. Sarah has a mundane job packaging copies of TV Guide, while Ron is clearly a professional man. She drives a wreck of a car while Ron drives a Datsun fastback. Sarah is “lugging two large bags of groceries” from the store on foot while Ron is collecting his starched shirts from the cleaners on his ten-speed racing bike. Ron’s apartment is modern and located in the “heights.” Sarah lives with her children in a “dark and cluttered” apartment in a “rough neighborhood.”

The story’s contrasting images continually amplify the mismatch between the lovers. As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that while Sarah moves from initial uneasiness to a kind of hesitant satisfaction in the relationship, Ron moves from uncomprehending physical attraction to disgust. What is more, Ron seems to be continually looking for reasons to deny his attraction to Sarah and justify his feelings of disgust. For this reason, the reader is more willing to sympathize with Sarah rather than Ron. However, Banks ultimately makes it difficult to sympathize completely with either.