Side Story

I love Kurt Vonnegut’s writing. You may remember some of his more famous books— Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions, Welcome to the Monkey House.

One of the techniques he used was the side story. During the course of the main story line he would branch off and tell an entirely separate story that seemed to just spin out of some thought, comment or free association on the part of a character. The sidestory would be a complete little tale in itself with a beginning, middle and end then it was back to the main story in the book.

My wife and I were driving back from West Virginia earlier this afternoon—where we met her daughter to return her kids to her (my wife’s grandchildren).  It’s a long drive—over three hours each way–up and down the Shenandoah Valley. I spent much of it thinking about a story I’m working on now—trying to figure out where it’s going next when it dawns on me I could work in a sidestory.

See—the main story is about a girl named Sam (Samantha) who is growing up in upstate New York in the ‘60s.

When the story begins it is 1966 and Sam is 16. She meets this incredibly good-looking, charismatic guy who has just transferred to her high school from Great Britain. The guy, whose name is Greg, is a brilliant scholar and gifted athlete who will be attending Colgate University on a full academic scholarship the following year.  He’s a year older than Sam and will be spending his senior year at Sam’s school before he goes off to Colgate in the fall of 1967.

Greg is Sam’s first sexual experience and they have a great year together—the only issue is, Sam tells her best friend Cheryl, Greg has this cruel streak—whenever they have sex she says Greg always, “makes her sit up and beg.”

As the day for Greg to off to Colgate draws near Sam can tell he is losing interest in her. His behavior toward her seems to confirm that impression—that he can’t wait to get to College to start partying with sorority girls.

Greg goes off to Colgate for the summer semester—Sam is heart broken—she has no doubts another girl will be sitting in the passenger seat of Greg’s car within 24 hours of his leaving town.

Sam and her family have a tradition of vacationing at a nearby lake every summer. She has her set of “Beach Friends” there, that she hangs out with every summer season. Her best friend at the beach fixes her up with a guy 3 years older than her. By this time she is 17—and the guy who is 20—has just spent 3 years in the Army and completed his first year of college.

Quite by coincidence it turns out this was the first boy she ever kissed back when she was 12 and he was 15. At the time he had been misled—he had been told Sam was “nearly 14.”

Sam is on the rebound—romance blossoms and things heat up pretty seriously. The guy, whose name is “Carter,” is a literary, artistic type and a promising young poet and author.

Here’s where the “side story” comes in. Each time they make love—afterwards as they lay cuddling—Carter tells her a story he has written—he is compiling a collection of short stories that he will submit as his senior project to complete the BFA program in Creative Writing he is in at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Tomorrow—I will set the stage and tell the one of the side stories—anyone who has a suggestion for a cool side story can type in an idea in the comment box at the bottom of this post. Fotoblur people can just leave me a message the usual way—as an image comment.

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