Glimmer Train Fall 2014: “Stowaways,” by Joseph Chavez

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Our first story from the Fall 2014 collection deals with an old WWII veteran, named Marshall (and holy shit, I just got the pun there). Marshall finds a body that fell from the sky in his backyard. It’s later revealed that this was the body of an airplane stowaway, who fell out of the plane when the landing gear opened. Marshall’s wife, Miko, is losing her mind to old age. She’s also a stowaway, and the story’s end draws a parallel between her and the dead Arab boy.

Stowaways is dearly written in the small bits, particularly with similes. Chavez knows how to utilize them well, whether he’s describing a “hunger that presses into his stomach like a jagged stone,” (Chavez, 16) or aging “as if life is pushing him out of the door, prying his fingers one by one from their grip on the doorjamb” (Chavez, 7). But sentence clarity here is undercut by the weird dispensing of information. Marshall and his son get in a fight in a flashback, and the fight is never described. One paragraph is the son saying something insensitive and stupid, another paragraph is a description of the son, and the third describes nurses pulling the two men apart. The narrator ignores a pivotal moment in one of Marshall’s key relationships.

I also can’t shake the feeling that the narrator is focusing on the wrong things. The dead stowaway is spewing blood when Marshall discovers him, but that’s the last description of the Arab boy in a list of comparatively trivial details. It reminds me of the Dungeon Master that describes in loving detail the insignias on the treasure, the oppressive warmth in the cavern, the holy energy emitting from the centerpiece jewel, and forgets to mention until the last minute that oh yeah, there’s a huge-ass dragon sitting in the middle of it. Spewing blood should be first in the list of things described because it would naturally catch Marshall’s eye first. Chavez passes over describing the stowaway’s unique clothes to instead spend a paragraph describing Arabic bills. These bills don’t affect the plot and don’t come back to the story in a meaningful way. The narrator is distant from Marshall, granted; the story starts with the narrator knowing something that Marshall doesn’t. But what does the narrator mean to do by separating itself from the main character’s point of view? I can’t say we learn much about this narrator, although more imaginative readers than I might gain something from the occasional vague subtitle in the story.

This isn’t a bad read. It’s just not as developed as it should be.

Interested in this story? Buy it and many others here!

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