Title: At The Zoo
By: Caitlin Horrocks
Published By: The Paris Review
Reviewed by: Vickie Fang
Every month or so, we try make a free story available from one of the literary magazines. This month’s selection is from The Paris Review, and it’s by a remarkable young writer, Caitlin Horrocks. The story takes place in a single afternoon during which little appears to be happening. A mother takes her father and her young son to the zoo. The son is fascinated by the animals and unduly impressed by the malarkey his grandfather is spouting. The mother is grimly recalling her own childhood humiliations when she had believed her father’s tall tales. Her father is drinking whiskey out of a plastic gorilla-head cup. The mishaps are minor, routine, but described with a sharp eye. Here is the mother contemplating her father:
She imagines him shriveling to a pile of wizened bones, a pour of whiskey, and a hundred knock-knock jokes. At her mother’s wake last year, he told a dirty joke to the women gathered around casseroles in the kitchen. It involved the Pope, Bill Clinton, her dead mother, and a donkey. She will not forgive him this.
And yet, she will forgive him, or, at least, from time to time, love him anyway, because this is a very rich story that deftly illuminates the struggling hearts of both the mother and the grandfather. Using simple language and everyday events, it plays with the nature of understanding, love, family, and even time itself as a mad scientist adds a graceful note of magical realism. It’s rare to see so much depth packed into such a short and seemingly simple story. To read it, just click on the title at the top of this review.