Written before Among the Missing and originally published by Northwestern University Press, Fitting Ends features thirteen stories detailing the almost panicked angst of the American generation now approaching thirty. Struggling with gaps between youthful expectations and adult experiences, these characters long for understanding and acceptance—but are thwarted by failed love, family disruptions, numbing work, and sexual confusion.
Chaon is one of the most promising new voices in fiction, and this re-issued collection offers further evidence of his unique talent.
“The best of these stories . . . possess a rare, disorienting force. When you look up from them, the quality of light seems a little different. It’s a reminder to those of us who have almost forgotten what literature can sometimes do.”
—Boston Book Review
“The most honest, observant and timely book written this year about the American generation now approaching thirty . . . Chaon speaks with clarity of feeling, and more than a little oddball wit, about the lives of those left behind the demographic curve of America—men and woman with pointless jobs, doughy faces, soured relationships, bad credit. . . . Each story pulls you into its subtle emotional vortex, largely because of Chaon’s knack for simple but poignant detail.”
—New York Newsday
“Remarkable . . . Each story is a marvel of complexity, dense with meaning and nuance. . . . Very few first works are as solid, moving, and pitch-perfect as Chaon’s.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[AN] OFTEN PERCEPTIVE, LUCID VOICE.”
—The New York Times Book Review
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.51(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.59(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
My Sister’s Honeymoon: A Videotape
There is a moment or two of vertigo in the beginning, that kind of cinema verité thing that all the young future filmmakers back at school were so crazy about for a while. The date stamp in the corner of the screen holds steady: 8-11-94, it says, but the time stamp moves swiftly. PM 12:01:46, and the second counter babbles through a garble of numbers, almost too rapidly to notice. 12:02:01, and there is nothing recognizable on the screen. Many seconds scroll by until we can recognize that the blur of color and darkness has some purpose. 12:03:56 before the camera comes to rest on the motion of the landscape passing outside the car: the blurry silver stream of an interstate guardrail sliding past, impressionistic dapples of green and yellow vegetation, and the sky. We’re moving forward. 12:04:28. 12:04:51. It is almost 12:06:20 before part of the dashboard rises up and we see a map. One of my sister’s red fingernails appears hugely in the corner of the frame.
We hear her voice: “Do you think this is working?”
She is not very steady. The camera jerks and bobs—the window frame, the glint of the rearview mirror, her feet, barely recognizable in the dimness below the dash. She points the camera at the map, focuses.
PM 12:59:03 8-11-94
My sister’s husband’s grip is firmer. He makes a clean sweep over an orchard of apple trees, an orderly orchard made quaint and picturesque by its many boughs of bright, heavy fruit. A red van crosses in front, obscuring the view for a moment, and then my brother-in-law arcs slowly over the trees again.
“Old apple orchard,” he murmurs solemnly, as if reading aloud to himself, as if narrating for a blind person. “Along the side of the road. Lots of apples!”
He zooms in for a close-up of a particularly bountiful branch. Another red van, or the same one, drives across the picture.
PM 1:18:32 8-11-94
Deer are eating grass by the side of the road. The couple doesn’t say anything.
It is about three in the morning, and I lean back, taking a slow drink from my beer. I don’t know why I’m watching this videotape—out of boredom, maybe, restlessness, insomnia. I’m not sure why I’ve come here after all, to my sister and brother-in-law’s new house, not far from the small town where my sister and I grew up. I guess one has to be somewhere at Christmas, and I am single, unconnected, and we used to be close, my sister and I. You haven’t seen your new niece yet, my sister said to me. You’ve got to come. But my sister goes to bed at ten every night, and the quiet seems to expand and expand, radiating out from the newly occupied house. In a nursing home five miles away, my mother lies in her bed, her thumb and forefinger moving against each other in her sleep, the late early stages of Parkinson’s. Across miles, in a distant city, my empty apartment sits in darkness. The faucet drips slowly into a pot I didn’t have time to wash before I left.
On the screen, the camera tries to zoom in on a doe, who is now lifting her head suspiciously, but the picture won’t focus properly. High weeds obscure the view of the suddenly alert animal; the frame is mottled with blurs of leaves.
“They’re sure not scared of people, are they?” my sister says at last, in a stage whisper.
PM 2:14:05 8-11-94
Here are my sister’s thick bare legs walking along a narrow asphalt path. She is wearing sandals, her toenails are dull red, a polish that is almost wood colored. Other legs can be seen in front of her. The camera rattles; the microphone jostles hollowly as they march.
You have to wonder about a shot like this, especially when it continues on and on like it does. Has my brother-in-law turned on the camera accidentally, or does he completely lack imagination, any sense of aesthetics? Can we read this as a representation of his mental process, some secret symbolic system that isn’t clear? Maybe it’s merely his sophomoric sense of humor—the camera lingers as she tugs at the back of her shorts, which have ridden into the crack of her buttocks.
Everyone else in the house is asleep. My sister and her husband are spooned together under the comforter in their king-size bed; their baby is motionless in her crib. The living room is dark except for the slow-blinking colored lights on the Christmas tree my sister has erected. The shadows of wrapped packages extend under the blinking lights, expanding and contracting in a creepy way, like something breathing.
It’s a larger house than I expected, more nicely furnished. There is a plush beige sofa, new; glass coffee table; big stereo; wide-screen TV. “Forty-eight inches!” my brother-in-law informed me, and I was, like, “You’ve got me beat, buddy.”
He finally takes the camera off her backside. We move upward, and there is my sister, turning her head back to say something I can’t catch—the sound is turned very low, so as not to wake anyone, and I’m already so close to the screen I can touch it. It seems like she says, “Nice one,” but what is she referring to? She laughs after she says whatever she says, that old edgy, cynical chuckle I’m familiar with, though it’s more polite than I’m used to, tempered by something—by love? By the fact that this is her honeymoon and the weight of the “fun” and “romance” she is supposed to be portraying is pressing down? Is it simply that the camera makes her self-conscious? My brother-in-law turns the camera from her laughing face abruptly, revealing a railing with a magnificent, high-cliffed vista beyond. There is a river far, far below; we zoom in and back.
PM 2:18:17 8-11-94
The Royal Gorge, that’s what it is. We see the words on a historical marker, in large capital letters, underneath which is a brief text explaining the gorge’s history and significance.
The camera doesn’t move. Unbelievably, we pause before the placard and stay there. I watch as a minute clicks by, and then another—the video camera has automatically superimposed the time and date of the taping in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Even the seconds seem to crawl by. The focus is adjusted obsessively.
I refuse to read it. There is something irritating about having this thing thrust on you, the camera’s dull, plodding insistence that we take it all in, every last word. It says a lot about my brother-in-law, I think—you can see how pushy and oblivious he is.
I don’t really know him that well. We’ve only just met. But this reminds me of the way he directed me on a tour of their house, each room with its specific, unvariable focal point of something he had to fix or something he’d recently purchased.
“Here’s our new bathtub. We’ve had big plumbing problems here, so I had to go into that there wall and . . .” “Here’s the baby’s room. We put up the wallpaper ourselves, and that crib’s the one my mom just bought us. This is the toy box I built, and as you can see, it’s full of toys. She’s got a lot of them, doesn’t she?” And then the minute he was done talking he’d say, “Moving right along.”
I think he bullies her. I noticed right away when I got here that there was something subdued, something submerged about her now. I noticed little things. The night I arrived we were sitting down to dinner, after my sister had put the baby to sleep. She’d prepared the meal, set the table, even poured his beer into a glass for him, but the minute she lifted her fork, he said, “Is that the baby?” We were all silent. Nothing. The conversation started again, but before too long he raised his finger. “Shh,” he said. “I think she’s crying.” Again, we heard nothing, but I watched as my sister got up from the table and went to check. He got his way.
Four full minutes of screen time pass before we are allowed to turn from the historical marker. I wait, feeling a bit bullied myself, wondering if it had really taken my brother-in-law that long to read the text. At last, we get some views of the scenery, the gorge from various angles, and even—for a moment—my sister herself. She stands at the railing and smiles at the camera he’s pointing at her. The wind lifts her long hair. She looks down, over the edge, and he comes closer. We stare down at the rushing of the rapids, see a raft, bright orange, whisk past.
“It doesn’t look that deep, does it?” my sister muses. “But I guess it is.”
Reading Group Guide
1. Chaon has professed to being influenced by the well-known old story, "The Lady or the Tiger?" Like that story, many of the stories in Fitting Ends deliberately end on the edge of a moment, leaving the reader to decide what the future holds in store for a character. Do the stories point the reader toward a particular conclusion, or do they leave the unanswered questions entirely to the reader's own view of human nature?
2. In "Presentiment," Rich thinks: "Love didn't have anything to do with the outside world: It just happened. Some mysterious brain chemistry set in, and you couldn't avoid it." Is his love for his autistic son really so mysterious? How does this example of love compare with others in the book? Are some types of love more positive than others?
3. Many of the young characters in Fitting Ends exhibit a great dread of the future. What does their pessimism stem from? Is it a function of psychology? Family and social circumstances? The larger culture? Do you think these young adults will continue to face the world with such trepidation as they get older, or is there hope that they will grow out of it?
4. A review of Fitting Ends in the Chicago Tribune said, "Dan Chaon shows a marked affinity in both setting and sensibility with fellow Midwesterners Wright Morris and Willa Cather." What is a "Midwestern sensibility"? Are there places in these stories that seem to particularly represent such a sensibility? Which aspects of Midwestern life does Chaon seem critical of, and which does he appear to view with affection?
5. In "Thirteen Windows," the narrator admits that sometimes he sees things that aren't there, and many of the other characters in the book struggle with skewed perceptions of the world around them. To what extent are the various characters' problems a result of misinterpretations of reality? To what extent are the characters lying to themselves? Do you see some of the narrators as more clear-sighted and honest than others? Which ones seem most trustworthy?
6. "Chinchilla," "Accidents," and "Going Out" all present children who must cope with a parent's alcoholism or mental illness, but every child responds to his or her situation in a different way. Why? What are the factors that seem to influence each of these children the most?
7. Ghosts and ghostly visions figure prominently in several of the stories. In other stories a memory of a person's past self haunts the present. What do ghosts represent in the world of these stories? What would it take to dispel these ghosts?
8. Several of the characters in the book have made an effort to break loose from their small-town roots, and they are often in conflict with those they have left behind. What are the advantages and disadvantages of setting off on one's own, versus the decision to stay put and remain close to one's origins?
9. In his interview, Chaon talks of being concerned about the order in which the stories appear in Fitting Ends. How did you approach reading the stories in this book? Did you start with the first story and read straight through until the end, or did you skip around here and there? Would the order in which you read the stories change the effect of the book as a whole? Why do you think Chaon chose to place the stories in this particular order?
10. The epigraph of the book evokes Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, and Scrooge's desperate question to the Ghost of Christmas Future: "Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be, only?" In what ways are these stories about fate, about the "shadows of things that Will be"? Are the characters' futures sealed, or is there hope for them to change? Are their ends really "fitting," or should we to take the title of the collection ironically?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An interesting book if you like his other work, but not the place to start as an introduction to Chaon.