On James Robison‘s “Mars
by Ann Bogle

A favorite Fictionaut short story I have chosen to discuss is James Robison‘s, “Mars.”  The story is technically flawless. Charlie and Denise in their kitchen conversation become: an objet d’art. The story bears re-readings and never tires. Denise’s Charlie is “inarticulate.” Her word for it renders him “poor” — poor in spirit, poor in pocket (though he works), and poor in vocabulary for remembrance. The story is a cast of words that paint in memory.

Nowhere is there better fiction dialogue:

“She was basically telling me about our rockets in the USA and saying like, we pretty much have the best rockets. Like she was talking about plums or what has the best cookies. She’d been working for the Defense Department.”
“Don’t go into her leather jeans. I mean, if I have to hear. I’m warning you. Big deal! I got news for you. Men are stupid.”
Denise looks angry.
He says, “I wasn’t. Who said jeans-”
“Anybody can buy red leather jeans.”
“I never said.” His voice goes falsetto on the word “never.”
“Oh, you’re so impressed by that. Give me a break.” Denise looks at the back of her hand. “So what — Maria Pizzatory.”

Poetic language, never poetic for its own sake, advances the story, particularly the element of character within the context of culture:

“His coffee cup is a heavy white mug. Denise’s coffee cup, empty, and her saucer are so thin as to be translucent and from a China pattern registered by brides-to-be, called the Devonshire Platinum. But Denise had wanted, and bought from the Saks 5th Avenue department store at the Deerfield Mall, only a bone China cup and saucer, just one of each, white with platinum trim. Her purchase caused a stir. One woman who sold wedding things had said, loudly, “Wait. She wants just the Devonshire cup and saucer — Just one of each –” She had said this loudly and as if Denise were an insane woman to want a coffee cup and saucer and not gravy boats and salad and soup bowls and place settings for sixteen or something.”

The story performs a fiction that clarifies life.

Fictionaut Faves, a series in which Fictionaut members recommend stories on the site, is edited by Marcelle Heath, a fiction writer, freelance editor, and assistant editor for Luna Park. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

  1. finnegan flawnt

    an amazing short review for an amazing short story that is indeed highly re-readable. i learn something else every time i read “Mars”. and your own “The story performs a fiction that clarifies life.” is a classic, ann, i haven’t heard anybody put it so well since gardner what fiction can be about. yes: “The story is a cast of words that paint in memory.” thanks.

  2. Susan Tepper

    I read Mars a while ago and wrote Jim that I felt I was looking through a keyhole. Jim wrote back explaining that it was nothing like his real life, but thanking me all the same. Actors strive to create the keyhole effect on stage, which this story Mars has done quite brilliantly

  3. Kathy Fish

    Great review, Ann. It’s a brilliant work. One of the best stories on the site.

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