In this short story, two young siblings in Nebraska are brought to live with their father’s mistress after their mother becomes institutionalized. —From Amazon
In the beginning of the story, Our Buick Stopped Here, Lee Matthew Goldberg’s main character, eight-year-old Colt, is firmly in the grip of his good-for-nothing father. After an unfortunate event leaves him and his little sister, Louise, motherless and homeless, Daddy takes the kids on a road trip across Nebraska looking for a place to land. Goldberg’s primary metaphor is the literal and figurative grasp. Sometimes holding on tight is the only way to keep what you love—your home, your family, your sanity. Other times, it’s a way to cause pain, suffering, even death:
Colt squeezed his eyes shut as the chicken flapped like a madman, and then he wrapped his hands around the chicken’s warm neck and twisted until it became limp and cold.
After a summer spent on the road, Daddy parks the old Buick outside a house like many other houses in a town like many other Nebraska towns and “yanks” the kids inside. Goldberg is detailed in his description of Colt’s experience—the heat, the smell of cat litter, “enough pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls to start a church.” Like everything in Colt’s life, it is familiar, but utterly strange. Nora, Daddy’s mistress, and the owner of the house, greets Colt and Louise with motherly affection, but she’s fat, coarse, and certainly no mother. When she opens the oven, the aroma of homecooked turkey turns out to be Spam casserole. A rubber travel cup is actually a condom filled with fruit punch (for which his father gives him a black eye—the brutal opposite of a grasp).
Daddy is searching for a new life for his kids, but only succeeds in disorienting them. They are all struggling to hold on to something lost, but the task is futile, like using Daddy’s vibrating knife-and-fork invention on a jiggly lump of Spam. The result is a mess.
Goldberg’s strength in Our Buick Stopped Here is in portraying a boy in the midst of a crisis who doesn’t demand sympathy. I felt a sense of commiseration with Colt—we see the obstacles ahead of him—without feeling sorry for him. From the opening paragraph Colt demonstrates an independent mind and well-developed self-preservation skills. “No funny stuff said his daddy’s eyes in the rear view mirror, but funny stuff was what Colt did best.” It took only eight seconds after his father exited the car for Colt to break into Daddy’s locked suitcase where he found the condom he later mistook for a rubber travel cup.
Goldberg relies too much on overly creative similes for my taste, and there’s one particularly mushy paragraph (though I won’t specify which), but overall, he does a good job of letting the story tell itself, or even better, letting Colt tell it. I’ve mentioned before that as a reader, I don’t need a happy ending. I often prefer something more complicated. But in this case, Goldberg was able to give me both. The story is called Our Buick Stopped Here. It is not the destination. Colt has places to go.
- Writing: 4
- Plot: 4
- Technical: 3