Monday, March 16, 2020

The Man I Love, by James Patrick Kelly

★★★★☆ A deeply moving tale of love that outlasts life itself.

(Ghosts) The clientele at Slack’s bar are rather unusual, and some of them don’t seem to be all there, like a young lady who comes in every night asking about a sailor boy. (1,905 words; Time: 06m)

Recommended By: πŸ‘STomaino+1 (Q&A)

"The Man I Love," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 03-04|20, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2020.152 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Slack’s clientele are all ghosts. He inherited the place from his uncle, who didn’t really tell him what he’s supposed to do with it, so he just goes through the motions for the most part. But tonight, he learns he really does play a role when he helps Ethel and Hiram leave together.

It’s sad to think that Ethel and Hiram didn’t get to be married for very long; she was very young when she died, and she’s been waiting for him for decades, always showing his picture and asking if anyone has seen him. And he waited for her too, witness the fact that she has two wedding rings to pay the tab. (She leaves the rings because marriage dissolves with death; whatever they’re going to, it’s not marriage, but they are together.)

From Slack’s descriptions of his patrons, it’s clear that he’s frustrated by his helplessness. There’s nothing he can do for any of his patrons. In the climax, though, he sets them both free—together.

Con: Slack is the only developed character, and other than his one action at the end, he’s mostly a passive observer.

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1 comment (may contain spoilers):

  1. I would have thought more highly of this story if I hadn't been much more impressed by it when I read it the first time about forty years ago, when it was titled "Dumb Supper" by Manly Wade Wellman. (One of his Silver John stories.)

    This is in no way an accusation of plagiarism: I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Wellman's story is based on an old folktale, or an old song, and in any case it's not the bare bones of the idea that matter, it's what you do with it. The problem is that I found Wellman's story much more atmospheric and enthralling. Also, Kelly puts this odd and implausible superstructure around the story - the narrator inherits a bar whose patrons are all ghosts! - whereas John just stumbles into the situation.(Admittedly, this is the kind of thing that happens to John a lot.)

    And while I've been an admirer of Kelly's fiction for a long time, in this case his narration just can't match the voice in Wellman's story: "But inside, Jeremiah Donavant and Lute Meechum were together at last, and peaceful. So peaceful, I reckon most folks would call them dead and gone."