Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Children and parents, a frequent theme in Beattie’s earlier fiction, appear in this story as the dramatic center, but it is the parents’ isolation and loneliness that preoccupies her here, not the children’s. Similarly, the parents are not characterized as the irresponsible, never-to-grow-up breed Beattie presented so deftly in her fiction of the 1970’s. This story is a subtle evocation of the pains of adulthood and points to the larger theme of sanctuary, summarized by Carol’s thinking, “Who could really believe that there was some way to find protection in this world—or someone who could offer it?”

The theme develops from the paired situations of the two couples, analogous to Carol’s memory of the range finder camera that superimposed two images of the subject to make it leap into clearest focus. Both have had a child, thus making themselves more vulnerable to fate, and both have suffered thereby: Becky Brinkley’s teenage troubles—her having had an abortion at age fifteen and her lack of direction even at the present—alter her parents’ lives in ways Vernon and Carol cannot truly know. However, Vernon’s notion that he and Carol have been spared misfortune and “chaos” because of their Sharon’s early death is to Carol’s mind a piece of sophistry—his optimism seems to her a frightening thing, based as it is on the twisted assumption that the great misfortune of Sharon’s death, having struck them early, has somehow insulated them against further shocks. Carol...

(The entire section is 618 words.)