Don’t let anyone tell you that authors can’t connect with people different to them. I now have “What It Means To Rush” as proof that a writer’s greatest tool is empathy. The author, Natasha Tamate Weiss, has a different gender, ethnicity, environment, and childhood than me. Yet her short story captured my experiences as a kid on a long road trip across America. The subdued breakfasts at motels, the desperate glances out the car window to find something interesting, the conversations with oversharing strangers, the bored/annoying brother, the desperation to find suitable food late at night… Weiss explores vacation hallmarks familiar to me, but she expands on them with sharp metaphors and two bookends that transform “What It Means To Rush” into more than a travelogue. Am I positive now because I spent these last few weeks workshopping amateur class offerings? Well, maybe… maybe I’m learning to appreciate how hard it is to write well.
The characters in Weiss’ story have a serious family situation hanging over their trip to a Native-American reservation. The narrator’s Grandma is nearing death. Her body’s giving way. During the trip, our protagonist meets an old man at a rest stop. The old man tells her, after a rambling yet insightful conversation, to visit the nearby cemetery. He insists that the excursion will “make you feel better about your grandmother,” (Weiss, 193). This passage occurs in the middle of the plot. The narrator (speaking from a older perspective, reflecting back) uses the graveyard trip to thematically anchor the rest of the plot to what she learned there. First-person past narration is key for this kind of story. Though I imagine the temptation to tell it in first-person present was great.
And yet, the frame the narrator puts around “What It Means To Rush” brings its own problems. I hesitate to bring up my one complaint, since the rest of the story’s so solid otherwise. But here goes. This is a coming-of-age tale of a girl confronting mortality and understanding more about her family. Guess how old she is during the trip?
Go ahead and put your best guess in the poll.
I assume you guessed low, like I did. The answer: 13. She referred to her younger sibling as “baby brother” from the start. Yet only 3 pages from the end does she mention, “I should say that my baby brother was actually twelve years old…” (Weiss, 196). What!? This throws everything told before into a new context. We know the narrator’s relating this story from an older and wiser perspective. But even with that filter, 5 year olds and 13 year olds take on life in different and opposing ways. Why is a 13 year old (at least, may I remind you) only confronting the nature of death now? And what good does it do to stop a story’s momentum to introduce vital information way too late? Hell, it’s not that vital. With the age left ambiguous, the reader would have an even easier time putting themselves in the protagonist’s place.
Natasha Tamate Weiss keeps a lot of her info private. Yet it’s clear that she’s a dedicated volunteer for worthy causes. This story represents her first published fiction. I honed in on one blemish, at the end of my review, because it does stick out in such a well-crafted work. Let me repeat: this was Weiss’s first widely available story. It’s exhilarating to think of her improving from here.
Interested in this story? Buy it and many others here!