Feed on

Through her stories, McCracken tends to break the image of innocence I have put on most of human nature. In “June” I had to face the reality that not all children are perfect angels and that the people around them often miss out on their cry for help. Here, I had to face the fact that no family is normal–they all experience loss in their own ways.

Most of McCracken’s stories contain a character that is an outcast and some sense of loss. In “Secretary of State” our narrator does not quite fit in to her mother’s side of the family. She grows up a “daddy’s girl” and never quite integrates into her mother’s side of the family. The Barrons could never praise her father or give her a practical education. I really appreciated McCracken’s ability here to take the normal family rifts and gossips and make them abnormal. And then of course even though her mother’s side is messed up, so is her father.

After reading the story, I wondered what if the story were from a different perspective. Why don’t we have the perspective of her cousin Tillie who is more tortured by the Barron family than the narrator seems to be? Why don’t we get this from an objective, 3rd person perspective? I think the main thing that the first perspective did was to impress upon me the magnitude of the situation. If our narrator is perfectly happy to never speak to her mother’s side of the family again and does not feel guilty even when they start dying, that says a lot. I was actually surprised that the narrator and her mother were so strong in their decision to separate themselves because it had taken so long for them to speak up.

In addition to losing the Barron side of the family, the narrator also loses her father in a sense. After his third breakdown, he undergoes shock therapy treatment and never quite returned to normal. Also, the narrator’s mother becomes much quieter and is never as vibrant as she was around her family. So this story has loss in many different ways. I think this is why I was able to relate to the story so much. In spite of all the craziness and the loss or upsetting things in your family, they at least guide you towards what you want from life and what you think normal is.

I think the strangest aspect in this story was that the narrator was almost dreamy in her account of the story. Although my heart broke over and over for her, I did not feel that her heart was broken as well until the last paragraph. This may also be where I was most confused. Why would the narrator want to return her mother to the Barrons, who constantly brought misery to the family? There are so many questions that this story left with me–I think they are what made it so powerful of a story to read.

“…and you can just slip in, Mother, it will be like you never left.”

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