We’re excited to publish Anthony Abboreno’s story, “Filler ,” the first fiction post on our website in over a year. Abboreno’s story is about the complicated relationship between children and their parents’ expectations. There are lobsters with personalities, an ex-wife who loves New Year’s Eve, and a man who tries to do his best, but falls short. “Filler” covers a lot of territory in few words. We hope you like it as much as we do.
MM: I love how the daughter’s taste in food becomes something that might save them all: “She would never have to stand at the edges of a crowd and feel uncomfortable. She would always have something witty to say, and she would never be lonely, and neither would we.” It kind of reminds me of those logic problems in math that I was always so bad at: IF…THEN is only FALSE when T implies F. All other cases are TRUE. (I got that off the internet.) How did you get us from one place to the other?
AA: Theoretically, a first person narrator can tell you exactly what he or she is thinking, but I don’t think many people are that self-aware most of the time. At least, I’m not, and this narrator certainly isn’t. This guy is pretty impulsive; he thinks in intuitive leaps that are almost non sequiturs, but not quite. The gaps between his ideas are things he doesn’t completely understand–he might not even be totally conscious of them–which is why he doesn’t parse them out. But of course, to a reader or listener, they stand out. They become important parts of the story.
In this case, the gap relates to his view of parenting: for the narrator, there is an intuitive connection between the decision to raise children, and the battle against loneliness. To make that connection, he’s triangulating a few different ideas about his motivation for having children. One of them is the idea of the child as a reincarnation–the parent who has children and encourages them to play little league, or whatever, because he or she never got to play little league. In a way that isn’t totally conscious, this narrator associates his daughter’s social adjustment with his own. If she isn’t lonely, he, presumably, will be less lonely.
But there are other components of that reasoning, too. There is the way that people sometimes have children with the idea of strengthening a relationship between each other, and so the health of the child–psychological or physical–can come to represent the health of the relationship. There is the way that people often think of children as a guarantee of future company; somebody to take care of them in their old age.
On its own, each of these things is too simple to explain how the narrator and his wife think of their relationship to their daughter, or their incentives for having a child. The truth is kind of an intuited mix, which fits between their pride in their daughter as an independent person, and in their daughter as a reflection of themselves.
MM: As an addendum to that question, how did you cover so much ground in so little space? Is this typical of your writing style?
AA: It’s not usual for me to cover this much ground in a small space. Here, the expansiveness seemed to be important to the story: I started with the idea of a father giving a speech at his daughter’s wedding, which must be an overwhelming thing to try and do. Here’s a guy trying to sum up a loved one’s entire life, as he knows it, while also including his own role as a parent, and hoping to make it as positive as possible without sounding phony. Any attempt at doing that is going to omit a lot, and in the process, offer conclusions that are slightly reductive. Those omissions were what I was interested in, and the only way to get at those was to tell a story that covered a lot of time, even though the focal point was just a short speech.
MM: There are a lot of nice surprises in “Filler.” For example, we don’t know that the narrator is drunk until he stumbles and nearly falls while rushing upstairs. I’m curious as to why you chose to tell us this at this point and in this way, i.e. why didn’t you tell us/show us he was drinking earlier?
AA: The narrator means well, but as I said before, he’s impulsive. There’s a core of things that always eludes him, and he often doesn’t realize the full consequences of his actions until it’s too late. So, for example, his drinking is not noteworthy until he falls down. He’s aware that there will be consequences to eating a lobster that his daughter has named, but the severity of those consequences doesn’t occur to him until years later, when somebody else points it out.
MM: What are you working on now? What are you reading?
AA: At this moment, I’m just writing short stories without any particular large project in mind. Still, I’m trying to stay aware of the connections between pieces, looking at how themes and ideas might coalesce into the beginning of a novel, for example, or a series of linked stories.
In terms of my reading right now, I’m switching between Battleborn, by Claire Vaye Watkins, and Stay Awake, by Dan Chaon, and enjoying both quite a bit. I just finished Ladies and Gentlemen, by Adam Ross, and thought it was great, and have Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives, by Brad Watson, as the book I’m looking forward to reading next (I loved Last Days of the Dog-Men). I’ve also been reading some space opera lately–I just finished Hyperion, by Dan Simmons, and Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey.
MM: Obnoxious bonus question: how true is this story, in percentages (since I’m all about math today)?
AA: I’d say… five percent? Ten? The final wedding speech he gives was inspired by an actual speech at a wedding I attended. Everything else has some relation to something I’ve experienced or been told about, of course, but the pieces have been chopped up and reassembled more or less beyond recognition. I feel a connection to this guy, but there’s no straightforward link between my life and his.
Anthony Abboreno is currently pursuing a PhD in Literature and Fiction Writing at the University of Southern California. In 2008, he earned a Master’s in the same subjects at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has work forthcoming in Reunion: The Dallas Review.
Mary Miller is the author of the novel Last Days of California, coming in 2014 from W.W. Norton’s Liveright, and the short story collection Big World from Short Flight/Long Drive Books. Her work has been published in McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction , The Oxford American, and other journals. She lives in Austin, Texas.