North Carolina Literary Review

Page 21

North Carolina Literature into Film

Photograph by Catherine Yamasaki

though no one seems to believe this but the narrator, since Doug is “known to stretch a story now and then” (29). Still, awareness of the probable posing does not prevent the narrator’s mother from going out of her own way to try to impress their visitors. She assumes Uncle Doug and Aunt Ramona look down on the rest of the family and works vigorously not only to prove them wrong but also to avoid disasters that “would become part of the family lore to be told and re-told long after the cook had stirred her last pot” (25). At the same time, Aunt Ramona and Uncle Doug continue their fiction because they have built up a reputation for themselves and cannot bear to lose face. They may or may not look down upon the narrator’s family, but they definitely exaggerate their own lifestyle and means in order to keep up appearances. It

above Tamra Wilson with her autographed

photograph of Robert Redford, which she brings with her to readings

is equally clear that the narrator’s mother is intimidated by their assumed wealth and socialite status. A consequence of these adults’ concern about social position is revealed when the young narrator, awestruck by her glamorous relatives (Aunt Ramona in particular), dresses her Barbie doll in clothes that are the “epitome of glamour” (26) and pretends the doll is friends with Marilyn Monroe. Other characters in Wilson’s collection share similar aspirations and anxieties. Many of them working-class, they are proud of what they do – at home, at work, at church, in the community – and thankful for the money they make, which helps them afford to take care of themselves and their families and, if they are lucky, splurge on a few luxuries here and there. Yet, they are ever aware of their own economic and social class and the disparity between their lifestyles and that of the celebrity ideal against which so much seems to be measured in American society. Sometimes these characters, like the mother in “The Glamour Stretcher,” develop negative opinions of those in more privileged economic circumstances, while others, like Aunt Ramona, emulate celebrities and take every opportunity to flaunt their wealth and connections. Still others, like the young narrator, entertained by and curious about celebrity lifestyle, are satisfied just to admire celebrities and maybe, if they are lucky enough, to actually see one in person – or to know someone who knows Someone. Jane, a cashier at Foodliners in “The Grocery Queen,” for example, criticizes Carol Ann Richards,



the wife of a local millionaire, for miserly habits like catching every sale and cheating in store raffles in order to win prizes that she can afford to buy. Jane does not understand “why good luck is wasted” on people like Carol Ann, who “has enough money for three people, and at forty-two . . . still looks cute in her cropped pants and peachy grin” (41). Whenever Carol Ann comes into the store, Jane and her co-workers compete to determine which of them will get stuck checking her out at the register, where they will have to scan her numerous coupons. The hassle for Jane rests not so much on doing the extra work but rather on being made to do it for someone who has little need to scrimp and save – as Jane does in order to make ends meet. Though Jane recognizes that it is not charitable to judge others negatively for their economic advantages, she resents Carol Ann for masquerading as a middle-class housewife in her shopping habits while simultaneously flaunting her fortune. Like Aunt Ramona, Carol Ann “does everything in a big way, including her makeup and her hair done up like some talk show hostess” (42). Carol Ann never misses an opportunity to brag about her many trips, yet still complains that she has not seen enough and that the only exotic place she has visited is Las Vegas. She wants to go to Italy and to South America, where Madonna starred in Evita, and Carol Ann speaks of London and France as though she has actually been there. She visits travel bureaus and plans trips to Australia and Buenos Aires, but her husband will not allow her to