Reflections: “Major Tom”

Reflections is just what it sounds like: short, sweet thoughts on a piece of writing I’ve come across. My intention is to read more short stories published by literary presses, but I’m sure I’ll draw material from all corners of the internet.

Title: Major Tom by C.C. Lewis
Source: Nimrod

Culture doesn’t die when those who witnessed it pass on. It becomes myth. This is especially true in C.C. Lewis’ short story Major Tom, published in Nimrod’s Spring/Summer 2018 issue.

Set in what is either a post-apocalyptic or post-capitalist U.S., Major Tom is told from the perspective of an unnamed father who scavenges to survive but hasn’t lost his sense of imagination. To him, imagination and storytelling are necessities for life. It’s up to those in possession of these tales to preserve them, including the fairy tale Major Tom:

Like all myths, pieces of the story have been lost along the way, its origins muddied by time, but Major Tom is still here, so it’s up to us to reconstruct him as best we can.

At the story’s onset, Major Tom is but a fairy tale — and one to which our narrator does not know the true ending. With his daughter, he has added to the story, sure, but he doesn’t know the Major Tom’s author nor the ending to its authorized version. By God, he wants to, though, and makes a low-stakes but climatic decision to barter with his neighbor to learn what he most wants: the name of the writer.

He could be lying. Crickets whine, warning me. Spring peepers chirp frantically from the crick. He could easily make up a name, and I would never know. I do know, however, what my finds from the gas station are worth. They’re needed, by the girl and my sister and brother.

I betray them all with my Yes.

Holding the contents of my pack in his hands, my neighbor tells me a name. The most wonderful name, unexpected and sharp like a knife. I know it’s real.

One of the chief pleasures of this story is meta-textual, and something I won’t spoil here. The story plays with ideas of myth-making — some names, some stories stand the test of time while others are uncontrollably warped in the process. Lewis has fun with this idea without it coming across as hokey, which easily could have rang Major Tom’s death knell. Instead, Lewis presents the story with a weird, winking playfulness that rewards a reader with a healthy curiosity for how today’s icons age into tomorrow, without cheapening the experience with an overabundance of specificity. In a story so concerned with it, Lewis really does allow his reader’s imagination to roam as s/he goes.

As far as craft is concerned, Lewis is sharp. He withholds without confusing. He doesn’t bog the narrative in expositional quicksand. The narrator is real and we fully empathize with his wants. It’s a prize-winning story, is what I’m saying, and Lewis knows what he’s doing. If it’s a slush pile find, it’s damn good, and well worth your time.

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