Bobcat and Other Stories

The stories in Bobcat, by Rebecca Lee, are ones in which happy endings are rare if at all. At best, compromises are made and people carry on. Take for example, "Slatland."  We first meet its narrator, Margit, when she is a child suffering from depression. Her parents (dad is a geology professor) take her to a "therapist" - a professor of child psychology at the university where her father teaches. In what seems to be a humorous take on therapy, Professor Pine suggests she rise above her situation, literally, allowing her mind to separate from the world around her. "For every situation there is a proper distance. Growing up is just a matter of gaining perspective. Sometimes you just need to jump up for a moment, a foot above the earth. And sometimes you need to jump very far. It is as if there are thin slats, footholds, from here to the sun...Slatland, flatland, mapland."

When Margit asks him when she should return for her next session, Professor Pine says that follow-ups are not necessary; his therapy works the first time. And it does work for her, "as if it were a medication that worked whether you understood it or not."

Twenty years later, as a soil consultant, darkness sometimes descends upon Margit. She uses the Slatland Technique to "step up" and separate herself from the situation. Unfortunately, this technique renders her incapable of seeing her fiance for whom he is - a Romanian liar. Instead, she is attracted to his "otherness," which also includes his narcissism, his tirades against North America and Americans, and his blatant insincerity. Ultimately, though, her ability to see the larger picture, to empathize with the secret wife and children back in Ceausescu's Romania, allows her to make the moral choice.

Infidelity and marital discord play a part in other stories as well.  Both the title story, "Bobcat," as well as the final story, "Settlers," highlights life's subtle and not so subtle disappointments. "Settlers" is the most moving of two. The story is told by an unreliable narrator who has idealized the marriage of her best friends, Lesley and Andy.  On the surface, the couple leads an idyllic life; they are accomplished professionals, own a beautiful house in a perfect neighborhood, and have three sweet little girls. Like Lesley, the narrator is thirty-five. She has a friendship with another mutual friend, David Booth, and is often paired with him when couples gather. The other friend, Berber, is dating a married man she met at a yoga retreat.  Both are now wearing turbans. Once more, Lee uses humor to dispel impending tragedy. "The turban made her look a number of conflicting things--pure and spiritual for sure, but also completely cracked in the head, like she'd had an actual surgical procedure, or maybe an imaginary one."

Although the narrator continues to see David for a number of years, hoping that he will want what Leslie and Andy have, nothing comes of their relationship. In time, she marries someone else - an old friend named Mark. She describes him as 10 years her senior, settled, director of a Raptor Centor - someone "you could trust (to) never have an affair or even leave the house too much." Indeed, as the story ends, she is again visiting Leslie and Andy with David as her imaginary escort. But now, she is in the middle of a protracted miscarriage, her baby slowly dying. As they watch images of Katrina on a muted television, she (and the author) reflect poignantly on life.

Life isn't that good always.  I wished I could let the baby know that.  There's a lot that's lousy. It's true there are large turning structures - Ferris wheels - that will carry people high into the air above the ocean, that is true, and then around the next corner there are funhouses, those are great, and then there are just ordinary playgrounds on every corner...So there is a lot, admittedly.

But then you grow up and you get a wonderful man and he cheats on you, or you get sombody like Bryan, who at your wedding says this as his vow - "I will be your teacher and you will be my team." Or you get David Booth, in which case you marry somebody else.

It's okay (she concludes) to just pass along, (I will miss you!), just keep going.

Rebecca Lee's writing is reminiscent of that of Lorrie Moore and Karen Russell. All three writers explore male-female relationships in all their complexity. Lee's unique use of language makes the writing jump off the page but never detracts from the basic humanity of her characters.

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