Ginny, divorced mother of two, constantly negotiates with her children, Olivia and Maggie, 5 years old. The main story of taking them to see M & M World is interspersed with an earlier experience in which Ginny was eye to eye with a whale off the Chilean coast while on a trip with "the girls' father" and the discussion between Ginny and "the girls' father" about how to broach the subject of their impending divorce.
For me, the story set up Ginny's issue or conflict early, "Breaking her resolution to stop qualifying..." For the remainder of the story, I wondered how she was going to handle her habit and how it was affecting her daughters. One of the kids disappears for a short time causing Ginny to go a bit wild with worry. She always worries. We do not really see Ginny come to any sort of realization except that she is relieved to have "... a daughter gripped in each hand." The theme of the story, for me, is about negotiations, both with ourselves and with others. Why does Ginny do this and to the degree that she does it? She makes her kids wait until spring to go to the silly candy store. This is extreme. An entire season to a child might as well be forever. So in the first paragraph we see just how obsessed Ginny is with negotiating and stalling or procrastinating. She hates herself for it and yet cannot stop.
All situations are action and reward. She doesn't know how to satiate her children. She makes them wait with her negotiations and then she allows them to gorge, action then reward but it's the worst kind of so-called reward and too much of it. Then she agrees that they may have their pictures taken with the M & M character but only if there is no line. Negotiation. Maybe that is her way of being in control as she does appear to feel out of control of even her children, her marriage.
She's obviously an intelligent woman ("she'd won a prize for her dissertation") but feels like she's never done enough, never good enough, never neat enough, etc. Her teeth are too yellow; her hair is too gray; her clothes old fashioned. Animals even look at her with pity or judgement or a message that she cannot decipher. She wanted to see the animals in Patagonia; she even has a list but then she takes along the book, War and Peace. Gawd, this woman is a mess.
"M & World" was first published in The New Yorker and selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories.
FAVORITE LINES: "Only Big Sister could do that part--wiggling her fingers first to conjure the fairy dust that only Big Sister could conjure."
"He was all secrets; they slid around beneath his expression like tectonic plates."
"Zoom Zoom in the doll cradle, perhaps, or tucked in a towel on the floor, its head on a pincushion or a neatly folded Kleenex."
Kate Walbert's web page
interview on NPR
story on The New Yorker web page
blog post by Kevin Arnold