It’s funny how I end up reading these Glimmer Train stories at the right time. “Third World Kroger” is about a father, still mourning for his deceased son, encountering a mentally challenged man throwing his own shit in a bathroom that makes your local gas station seem royal. After complaining about the state of the world for most of the story, the dad helps the “retard” (as the help desk calls the man) get somewhere safe. He concludes “if this [better] future is ever going to arrive, I’ll have to do some work” (Schreur, 82). It’s not exactly Sartre’s burden of radical freedom, according to the philosophy class I’m in, but, like the events in the dad’s life, it’s a good start.
Nearly every setting and story detail in “Third World Kroger” builds on the themes of mourning, responsibility, and “guilt by association.” The last one is particularly insightful— the dad notices that his neighbors, with kids of their own, react to the tragedy with tones of voice that imply “I’m sorry for your lose, but it was probably your fault somehow.” That fearful concept is what our protagonist runs from… who wouldn’t, at least for a while? Little touches in the story capture intense grief, such as wistfully contemplating a DVR pause button, or noticing how the world crawls along after tragedy “boring as ever,” (Schreur, 79). Even weird memories, such as the protagonist being driven to tears over his failure to buy a toy for his son, make sense in the insanity of grief. “Third World Kroger”’s strengths lie in its subtleties. Even its heroic, sappy, and ultimately unnecessary final paragraph is less of an ending and more of a beginning.
On a writing level, I take issue with introducing settings that the audience never visits. It’s more than the titular Third World Kroger store barely receiving description. Before certain paragraph breaks, the narrator will describe a place he plans to go, such as a different bathroom stall or aisle fifteen of Kroger, only for the action to pick up again where we left off. For a story that tries to get into someone else’s head, it’s strange to jump around like this for little reason.
Greg Schreur’s background as an English teacher informs a lot of his blog’s content, though he brings with him experience from publishing work online and teaching juvenile sex offenders. He can be found on Twitter @gregsker, if only occasionally. If you’re looking for an inspirational story about the details of grief, then “Third World Kroger” has what you need in stock.
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