“Why Didn’t You Call Me September 11th” by Allison Whittenberg is a great example of utilizing fiction to its greatest capabilities. Not a single space, line, or word is wasted. The story takes place between 2001 and 2002, soon after 9/11. Jean is seeing a man who is not her boyfriend. Jean lives in her mom’s house, not her own home. Jean misses her dad, not alive. Jean wants to get married, have a child, adopt a dog, not be alone.
This story is about being lost in life, not knowing what to do, wondering what that next step is. It’s a story about being afraid of change, being depressed. Jean is looking for a meaning in her life and we follow her along that journey. Jean lives this monotonous lifestyle, she sleeps, eats, goes to work. Sex is described as being a task that has to be accomplished and not a pleasure. “Another whole generic year went by almost and Jean and Tim were on the same tepid schedule. Once a week dinner or movie, sex barely touching.” Conveyed through short sentences the passage of time also works very well: a whole year passes by in the length of a sentence because Jean is stuck in this monotonous routine that makes the days blur together. The world passes her by. “When her father died, the world didn’t stop.” Time only passes with the news of the war on terror, something Jean can’t control.
Jean is a really well-constructed character, we understand who she is, her insecurities, her dreams. She lives a very simple life, with a very “realistic” outlook. Or at least what’s realistic and correct to her. The author describes Jean’s life in these matter-of-fact statements, describing life in the way that Jean sees it. Paragraphs like these are almost comical in how seriously they take themselves. “In her whole life, she’d never bought a bottle of wine or dry-cleaned an outfit. She had cassettes. No CDs. That would mean buying a CD player. Her clothes were from Clover’s. Sensible shoes, not too much heel.” Jean’s stuck in this world she’s confined herself to. She’s settled with the man she’s seeing because she’s scared. She’s too scared of doing anything she wants because it’s outside of her comfort zone. “But it didn’t feel like the relationship was winding down. It was just settling down like a stone at the bottom of a river.” She’s terrified of change. “She needed to buy a place to live on her own. But she didn’t want to live alone. She couldn’t.” But Jean’s fears aren’t stopping her from dreaming, she tucks away vacation brochures and fantasizes about her honeymoon. Jean volunteers at dog shelters, savoring the idea of not being alone. She wants to get a new job and go to forestry school. Jean hasn’t let life get her down completely, she hasn’t given up hope yet.
Allan Ayala, Lead Fiction Editor
Read this story in Issue 5 of Levitate Magazine, available on our website on May 25! And join us for our launch reading on YouTube at 7 pm Central on May 25.