Staff Pick: Meg Files’s “Green River”

Raima Larter is a fiction reader for the Little Patuxent Review. In this post, she shares one of her “Staff Picks” from the Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). Meg Files’s “Green River” is available for reading at this link.

Whenever I hear breaking news about yet another mass shooting, I find myself wondering about the parents of the shooter. What must it be like for them? It’s hard to imagine the pain that parents must feel when their children become victims of a shooting. It’s even harder to imagine what the parent of the shooter might feel.

Meg Files has written a story that explores something similar—not a mass shooting, but an equally horrific event. From the first sentence of the story, it is clear the protagonist, Elizabeth, is trying to escape something horrifying: “She decided to go out into the world so as to leave the world behind.”

We don’t know, and won’t know, for many paragraphs, exactly what she’s trying to escape. Hints are deftly dropped into the story as it slowly unfolds. Elizabeth is driving west from somewhere in the Midwest. When she reaches Kansas, she decides to trade in her car. She wants to ask the man at the car dealer, “Would you like to be my son?” She trades her car for a cheaper model and continues driving, reaching Denver. “Denver was a big place. A body could get lost there,” she writes. Elizabeth continues acting strangely, buying a large empty book, “Grandma’s Brag Book,” and filling it with photos cut from another book.

We still don’t know what she’s fleeing, but something shifts when she reaches the town of the title, Green River, west of Denver. “At Green River, it felt like time to go south. She didn’t know why. She wasn’t planning. If she knew anything about planning, she’d have considered every word and touch, from fetus to whenever he was lost, whatever precise moment that might have been.”

And then, somewhere past Green River, the car finally breaks down. “It was easy for a life to become unblessed,” she writes. Rather than the easy ending we expect, a touching rescue by some good Samaritan stranger, Files digs deeper, into the despair that has driven Elizabeth to run so far from her home, and provides us with a surprise ending I won’t give away, but one that feels just right.

Meg Files is the author of several books, including the novels Meridian 144 and The Third Law of Motion. In addition to writing short stories and novels, she is an accomplished poet and is the editor of Lasting: Poems on Aging.

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