Edmund's father is ill. They are poor and live in rural Arkansas. His father is eccentric and works breading and frying fish at a restaurant. Edmund's mother died during childbirth and the father is already fifty years old. The story is organized by the "preferred signals" of the satellite dish that delivers their television. Edmund remembers his life in terms of the types of television programming and how they related to the particular aspects of his fifteen year old life, weather, tennis, sex, Soviet politics, French cinema, baseball, figure skating, Croatian news channel, television drama Dallas. The story is told some time in Edmund's indistinct future. He is reckoning with his childhood and the early loss of his parents and how he learned about the world and how to situate himself in it.
The theme could be said to be found in this line, "It was important to listen to the messages the world delivered, he said." Do we ever stop trying to reconcile how we were raised, what we've done in our past, what's been dealt us?
This is one of my favorite lines. "My father would pull baskets of food from the deep fryer, plugs of meat and potatoes, all of it soggy, grease dripping down your cuticles before dripping down your throat."
"Preferred Signals, 1985" is available at the online journal, Booth.
an interview with Skinner and the Carolina Quarterly
link to another story by Woody Skinner, Euphony Journal, "Weight"
link to another story by Woody Skinner, Necessary Fiction, "A Thousand Distant Radios"