December 24 & 31, 2012: “Shirley Temple Three” by Thomas Pierce
I gather that Thomas Pierce is a student in the MFA program at the University of Virginia, not far from where I live. Which is neither here nor there, except that it’s quite an accomplishment to have a story in the New Yorker while still a student.
And quite a story it is, too. (It’s not behind the paywall, so you can read it for free, and while you’re there check out the Q&A with Thomas Pierce for a little background on the story.)
Here are the basics: Tommy works in Atlanta on a TV program called “Back from Extinction” on which extinct animals are brought back to life through cloning. Which is how he happens to be in a possession of a dwarf mammoth that he brings home for safekeeping at his mother’s (Mawmaw) place. He promptly disappears and Mawmaw is left to figure out how to care for the animal, which Tommy had named Shirley Temple. When Shirley gets sick, Mawmaw calls the vet, then the pastor, but nothing seems to work.
The situation is interesting and I love the characters, but because I found the ending to be unsatisfying I was really hoping the story was an excerpt from a novel. But apparently not. Tommy is a handsome, unreliable man–apparently he takes after his father, who was married to another woman and so could not marry Mawmaw–who doesn’t seem too bright. Mawmaw, though, is a survivor, and seems to genuinely care for poor old Shirley.
Read the story. What did you think of the ending?