It’s Sunday. Which means you get to hear me blather on about some piece of short fiction I read this week. If it’s any consolation, this week’s pick is free . . . and old school Science Fiction. So if you’re into either of those two things, I’d keep reading.
The story this week is Ross Louis Rocklin’s (pen name: Ross Rocklynne) Sorry: Wrong Dimension. In terms of plot, this story didn’t have a huge amount of anything going on, so I don’t know how much I’ll actually be spoiling by telling you what happens (I think this was supposed to be more a piece that made you think. It does to varying degrees/definitions of thinking. Mostly it was cute). So here’s a basic outline:
— The narrator, Mrs. Weaver, and her neighbor/friend (not sure which of these is a better way to describe her) are sitting out on the front porch getting some much needed R&R. Mrs. Weaver is commenting, if not bragging, about how her child (called Baby throughout the story. Weird?) has been quite all day. She’s had time to do the ironing, clean, even catch up on three episodes of some detective serial that she enjoys. No small feat in the life of your 1950’s housewife.
–That’s when it hits her. Maybe something is wrong with Baby! And that’s why he’s been so good! Stranger things have happened . . . well not yet they haven’t.
–Mrs. Weaver and Mabel (the neighbor/friend) go inside to check on baby and find that he’s playing happily by himself with not a care in the world. Slowly they realize he’s not playing by himself. Baby tugs on his pacifier and something tugs back. Monster? An invisible monster? . . . Yes and yes. Call Harry right away! He’ll know what to do. No wait don’t call Harry, his boss will be pissed. Screw it call Harry!
–Mrs. Weaver picks up the phone and asks for Harry’s work and gets quite a strange reply: “Sorry. You must have the wrong dimension.” And then click. Well that’s the end of that. Only of course it isn’t. Mrs. Weaver (who I’m now remembering is named Stella) calls back, explains the situation and two gents show up at the door. Apparently, they were only ten years away. I suppose that’s no time at all.
–These guys agree to take the monster away from the house and proposition the two ladies (did I mention it was the 50’s). Stella gets wise and tells them to leave, that she’s decided to keep Baby’s Monster (called a Drinko). Finally the real cops show up, well the real inter-dimensional cops but the two gents (now proven crooks) are long gone. However, Stella is able to provide the dimension police enough information that they the crooks are caught and the day is saved. As a reward, Stella gets to keep the Drinko for Baby, and Mabel made it home with enough time to get dinner in the oven for her hubby. If that’s not a victory, I’m not sure what is.
Anyway, what I find so fascinating about all of this is the way it depicts the 50’s and more specifically, housewives in the 50’s. For some reason I’m just obsessed with their plight. How terrible it must have been to live in a suburban neighborhood during this time. All of the juggling of responsibility. The managing and micro-managing but without any real say. And of course, the times were changing. Old ways of thinking about women in the household are making less and less sense. New technology is making things easier and more efficient, but also more uncertain and frightening. Mabel reacts to discovering the monster:
“Stella,” she said, with a quiver of that good-looking short upper lip of hers, “we’re trapped in. We’re in the middle of some kind of fantasy. It’s a crazy world we’re living in, Stella. A-bombs and H-bombs and flying saucers and space-flight–it’s all the fiction stuff coming true. Now we’re lost in some other dimension and I have to get dinner in the oven.
I’m not sure what to think is silly in all of this. Part of me thinks it is appropriate to point out that Rocklin (I found a list of his published works and a bio from wikipedia) is a male writer and if the general press about this time period is to be believed, than it’s possible that he’s quite mysoginistc and displaying women in what he feels is a comical and subversive light. Or he could be in on it and satirizing the time. Poking fun at the stereotype of women during that time. Or he could be trying to reflect what he feels is a genuine problem. That these women are trapped in a world they don’t understand and there only solace is to think about the things they understand like cooking and what’s best for Harry Jr.
There is another story, The Heat Death of the Universe, by Pamela Zoline which reflects a similar melt down. It’s more dramatic, and the tie-ins with actual science really elevate the emotion you feel at the end. Of course, Science Fiction isn’t the only mode of story telling that tells this story. We see it in Mad Men (I mean really. I already gave you January Jones’ picture) and it’s again reflected in music as well (check out the Rolling Stones link below).
Just seems to keep coming up. Anyway, if you haven’t read Sorry: Wrong Dimension you can pick it up free on Project Gutenberg here. I’d definitely also check out Pamela Zoline’s The Heat Death of the Universe which is here. I think it definitely helps get to what I’m trying to say, even if I can’t get there. Oh and here’s The Rolling Stones: