Three-A-Week (1.3): Sarah Pinsker’s “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide”

Published March/April 2014 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

(Warning: I’m going to be talking about the story assuming you, my wife or imaginary reader, have read it. Here there be spoilers. Also, these are my rough, rambly thoughts; I make no promises regarding cohesion or concision.)

This was the first of Sarah’s stories recommended to me, but I waited until now to read it. Maybe I was hoping to trace some sort of trajectory in her work–an image or topic she returns to, or a progression in some aspect of her craft. But the stories I picked are each really distinct and were all published relatively close together, so I think I may have to lay that dream to bed. Goodnight, dream.

Instead, what I see here with “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” is a tightness of narrative and an efficiency with language that I didn’t see in the previous two stories. This is not really going to make much sense, but I’m tired and sitting in a really uncomfortable chair, so fuck it: There’s something really quiet about this narrative. It’s a story about a simple man with simple desires (“simple” here absolutely not a pejorative) finding out how to deal with this strange and, at times, sublime feeling of dual belonging and existence: he is at once both himself and this stretch of highway. The world is sparse here; the narrative focuses on Adam’s world and his immediate surroundings, which is juxtaposed so strikingly by his sense of otherness brought on by his new arm, but it’s an otherness that is innately familiar to him, ingrained into his being even as it is other.

It’s a story that drives from the inside–inside Adam’s head and inside the reader’s, and there’s a quietness about it that is really alluring. The efficiency of the language, the ascetic aesthetic, would normally be at odds with such a quiet story, but there’s an odd way in which the friction between these two aspects (much like the friction between the here-home of Saskatoon and the there-home of the Colorado highway) totally ends up creating a dynamic, powerful story.

I was talking to my wife (hi, wife) about the story after I finished reading it and was thinking of how to talk about it, and the only thing I could think of was how completely, perfectly, and satisfyingly self-contained and self-motivated it is. There is nothing unnecessary here, nothing added for spice but lacking in substance. Reading “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” feels like experiencing a curated timeline of one man’s life, a timeline unpacked and trimmed down to achieve maximum impact. The opening paragraph, seemingly a throw-away bit about a tattoo mistake, comes back as the perfect set up for the final paragraph and line of the story.

There’s more I want to say about this story, or there isn’t, but there’s at least more I feel about this story. It’s hard to pin down into any real commentary or analysis though, because to do so feels clunky, like eating a beautifully prepared, delicious meal with nothing but my grubby, finger-paint-covered hands. So, I’ll just say: thank you for an incredible story, Sarah. I can’t wait to read anything and everything else you put out.


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