A friend asked me to read at Harold Washington College as part of their Women’s History Month programming. I read “The History of a Hunting Accident” for many reasons: it’s short, so I could read the whole thing; it’s my most recently published piece; I’m kind of partial to it. I discovered that it was a perfect story to read to a student audience, but not for any of those reasons. As soon as I finished reading, hands shot up. Turns out, the story is really easy to ask questions about.
I write standard American realism—domestic fiction—often about women living in the rural Midwest.
“Why did you decide to write that story all in questions?” Why, indeed? The short answer is that I tried every other way I could think of to tell this story, and none of them worked. I had spent years wanting to write a story based on a rumor I’d heard as a child about one of the sweet older ladies in the Quaker church I grew up in. Rumor had it Celeste, who smiled and laughed and treated every child she came across as one of her beloved own, had married terribly young, and had suffered terribly for it. Rumor had it her first husband did unspeakable things. Rumor had it he died in an accident, out hunting with Celeste’s brothers.
The point of the story wasn’t what I knew; the point was what I didn’t know and couldn’t ask.
Like all good rumors, I don’t know where I first heard those partial stories about Celeste. I certainly knew I couldn’t ask anyone directly about them. And I knew that a violent husband dying in a hunting accident while out with his abused wife’s brothers was a stroke of luck most likely too good to be true. I tried to write that story every which way, but no matter what point of view or tone or narrative stance I came at it from, it was a tired and maudlin story—a melodrama I couldn’t write and couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to read. It just wasn’t interesting. Eventually, I realized that the point of the story wasn’t what I knew; the point was what I didn’t know and couldn’t ask. Which is the point of a rumor after all, isn’t it?
For all the time I spent wrestling with Celeste’s story, I’d loved and often taught Donald Barthelme’s story, "Concerning the Bodyguard." But I’d never thought of myself as in any way like Barthelme. I write standard American realism—domestic fiction—often about women living in the rural Midwest. Sometimes they are lesbians. This is not Barthelme’s legacy, is it? If my memory serves, the realization that my Celeste-story-problem could be solved by a Barthelme-story-strategy struck me out of the clear blue. As good ideas often do. Though I’ve never written another story like this, and don’t think it’d be a wise thing to do, this insight I’ve carried with me: it’s the questions that matter, always the questions. The questions, not the answers.
Laura Krughoff received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan in 2003 and is currently a PhD candidate in the program for writers at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Her first novel, My Brother’s Name, was published by Scarletta Press in 2013 and is a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.
Krughoff's work has appeared in Huffington Post, Printers Row Journal, Washington Square Review, Requited, The Seattle Review, The Pushcart Prize Anthology XXXI, The Threepenny Review, Chicago Tribune, and other journals and magazines. In the fall of 2014, she will join the English department at the University of Puget Sound as an assistant professor of creative writing.
On this track:
Laura Krughoff, author
Timothy Musho, filmmaker and photographer
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