This story appeared in the May 18, 2015 issue of The New Yorker Magazine.
First Line: "It's one of those airlines where you get your seat assignment at the gate, and they're late to Logan and slow to get through security, so the lady at the counter can't seat Charity and her mother together."
Last Line: "Fish gutz / my gutz: Compare & contrast."
With the first line of this story we are immediately pulled in - we've all been to that airport. We've all experienced the waiting, the slowness, the mind-numbing crawl through a line only to be disappointed.
But the protagonist, Charity, is not disappointed. With her mother seated in the back of the plane, she is gifted "five-plus hours of freedom - hallelujah!" When they land, she will have to help her mother "see how bad things have got with Grams, and try to figure out what should happen next."
Charity, not yet sixteen years old, is intelligent. She is taking advanced and college-level classes in high school. Independent and observant. Tech-savvy and conscious of fashion and social conventions. She is also sexually aware.
A man, "older, way older - like thirty, maybe", sits next to her on the plane and strikes up a conversation. This conversation leads to a proposition, an inappropriate touch, and sexting.
We walk through tangles of relationships with this teenager. With the mother, the "typical" teen angst is addressed: the desire to be far away from parents, and yet, needing and wanting the comfort that comes from still being a child. As a daughter, she watches her own mother as the child in relation to the grandmother. Charity has a close female friend, and a possible relationship with a boy who is "funny and easy to be around".
And then there's this stranger she's met on the plane: Mark. She calls him "Mark Perv". Here, cut off from her usual, routine life, Charity explores dangerous territory - one that she is not prepared for. One that has consequences not yet understood. She likens it to "peeking in the doorway of a bar or the teacher's lounge - someplace you could get in trouble for going into but were curious to glimpse the inside of, just to be able to say you knew what was in there."
Justin Taylor creates a fantastic, true-to-life-character in Charity. The voice of this contemporary teenage girl is flawless. The story line and the character bring out so much depth and honesty to each other. Details are perfect, highlighting the teenager's inner world with raw and defining clarity.
I am also quite taken with the ending. Charity's responses to Mark's propositions were exactly how I imagined this girl would react. There was not a moment that I had to suspend disbelief. I believed it all.
It is a powerful story, exploring a darkness in our world. And here we have a front-row seat to see how one young woman interacts with that darkness... and how a "return to innocence" is not what it proposes to be.