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Thunderstruck ~ Elizabeth McCracken

This story was in the Best American Short Story anthology for 2015 after stunning readers in Story Quarterly – as it should have.

McCracken gives a master class on point of view in this tale of a family who moves to Paris to cope with their rebellious teen. Sure, Helen is only thirteen when the police bring her home for huffing helium, but the parents see signs and the father, Wes, decided that five months in Paris will fix things. Mom Laura is a bit hesitant but seems to want to believe that Wes is right. So the family, including younger daughter Kit, pick up and move to an apartment in a not so photogenic section of Paris. And Wes is right – Helen thrives there. She is happy, serving as family translator, making friends, becoming close to her sister. 

Until we learn things are not as they had seemed. Helen is hospitalized and in a coma after a fall causes a head injury. She had been sneaking out and meeting boys, drinking French wine, and Kit would let her in each morning. Helen’s prognosis is not good. 

Here is where McCracken shines. She goes from head to head, Wes and Laura and each is an unreliable narrator of a different kind. By the time the story ends, I think I know what happens with Helen, but even after two readings, I am not sure I know. 

This month I am participating in the A to Z blog challenge. http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

The challenge involves 26 posts in April, all somehow connected to the alphabet. My theme for the month is short stories. The Story Factory needs market research, of course, so I will be reading a short story for each letter of the alphabet and trying to learn some new techniques for my story writing. My lacks seem to be characterization and emotional experience, so I am mainly looking for stories to teach me those things. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments if you know of an amazing story. Another component of the challenge is the blog road trip, where we visit each other’s blogs, leave comments, etc. While I would like to visit a couple of blogs every day, it is more realistic to do Road Trips on Sundays. (Of course, my ongoing, 52 bad story challenge is still on, as well as the 2021 creative hours in 2021.