With superb stories like "The Clay Party," "The Oram County Whoosit," and "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," Steve Duffy is slowly accumulating the secret history of the United States: the rationalizations and negative capabilities of those caught in the
carnage in the epoch of imperialist decay.
In "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," Duffy gives is Heward Durling, middle aged, in a wrecked marriage, with a son drafted and fighting in Vietnam.
....Heward H. Durling, Goodman-Brown Real Estate, N.Y.C., wife (1), child (1), mortgage (1), life (1), born into these sober-sided salesman's shoes, accustomed to somehow muddling along, one blunder to the next, gee-whizz, aw-heck, golly-gosh-amighty, honey. It's pure cartoonery, it really is, the stuff Hew gets up to: or perhaps it's the way we try to mask our bitterness, our fears, our sheer confusion, sometimes, behind what's more culturally acceptable – endearing, even.
You know that legendary half-assedness of the sitcom dad, all sloppy-joe and flopsy? Protective coloration; camouflage, for a generation of the beleaguered and bewildered, bears baited in a brash and shiny circus. Like Hew here: good-natured klutz, that's the stereotype behind which he hides – tripping over Rover and spilling his drink on the Boss come round for dinner, locked outside the hotel room with his pants still on the inside, catching a curve-ball slap in the puss when he throws a little backyard pickle with ol' Junior. That's Hew's cue. Just the sort of fella to screw up on something simple, like reading a map or following a road-sign: just the sort of guy to look around and all of a sudden find he's lost.
Duffy has the skill and audacity to out-write J. Updike and S. King.
Heward Durling, behind the sitcom dad facade, is multiply orphaned, can never find a home in this world. From childhood his memories are of endless days and nights in cars, and it is only in his car that he can tell his story, talking freely with a hippie hitchhiker as they go along the dark back roads of the Catskills, lost but seeking.
....We populate these roadsides with our ghosts, make up monsters for the boondocks: it's the way we feel about the absent, massive reach of the land, the vacancy, the space that nobody owns. We'll never get the range, not completely. We fly it in airplanes and trace its tiny prickling lights, we talk across it most nights on the telephone; we send letters and postcards, but we don't often stop there. We know we ought to be back home, before it gets too late, and that's why these stories can still hold us, why we're scared to look behind us, scared of what we'll find...
....the light it hurts our eyes to look into, that shows us what we've become.
17 November 2019