BNAV2010 1/16: Bethlehem Is Full

I’m going to do something a little different: I’m going to blog my way through a book. And maybe I’ll do this a lot. I don’t know. But I’m going to do it with Best New American Voices 2010, which was edited by Dani Shapiro – and I just got it.

Anyway, there are 16 stories in the book, written mostly by students in the top MFA programs across the country. I figure it’s important for me to read them since a. I hope to be them in a few years and b. they have a pretty good shot at becoming famous and I like being first on the bandwagon.

Also, SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to be discussing the endings. A lot.

The first story in the collection is “Bethlehem Is Full,” by Boomer Pinches (what a name!) of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It is good. The basic premise, looking at how a relationship can survive (or not survive) after an abortion, isn’t particularly new, but certainly isn’t stale. But dropping the couple on a whirlwind Australian vacation immediately after the procedure is pretty cool.

I think the strength in this story comes from the little dog that follows the couple around. It’s diseased and they take it to a pound (a considerable detour) in the hopes of saving it. Of course this trip puts a strain on their relationship and, when coupled with the abortion trouble, the relationship’s strength is tested to the breaking point. But the ending, I think, of Keith asking to put the dog down himself, proves to me that he, at least, will do whatever it takes to make the relationship work – letting this dog die, while not exactly equivalent to performing an abortion, shows an attempt on his part to understand what Amy went through. It’s sweet, in a morbid kind of way.

But I’m really confused about the part with the crocodiles. Why he jumped in the river with them is beyond me. Yes, he was stressed, but I don’t think that’s enough to put your life in such danger. That didn’t detract too much from the story, it just made me wonder how, well, sane this guy is – when I probably shouldn’t have been.


2 thoughts on “BNAV2010 1/16: Bethlehem Is Full

  1. I was left stunned by the story. I kept wondering, too, why Keith did the things he did. There seemed to be a common thread to his danger seeking (the kangaroos, crocs, etc.) but why? Why did he seem so ‘off’. I kept wondering what his deal was. I like your insight about the ending, but I just didn’t think he cared about Amy. He didn’t care much about himself either. And I guess he felt he couldn’t let himself care about the dog if he was ready to be eaten by a crocodile. It was a painful story, but certainly a page-turner. I also hope that the turns weren’t just to grab the reader. I keep hoping there is some deeper meaning I just haven’t yet understood.


  2. Hm the story definitely left me confused – in the end, I viewed the ending as his way of doing a humane thing? Instead of letting the dog suffer through life since it’s going to eventually die painfully of disease?

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