Monday, September 6, 2021

Carol Carr

I've learned that Carol Carr died a few days ago, and though she was full of years I am saddened. I knew her slightly, and I also knew her work. She wrote wry humorous columns, very much like series of the kind of blog posts I like to read, for the eminent fanzines of both her husbands, Terry Carr and Robert Lichtman; and once in a rare while she'd write - and invariably publish, for she was good at this - a fiction story. There were just six of these altogether, and one is one of my absolute favorite stories, which means that on average, measured story by story, Carol Carr is my favorite science-fiction writer. I'm pleased that I once got to tell her that.

And when I heard, in her presence (at a book party for the publication of another collection from the same publisher), that a book collection of her work was impending, I determined to be first in line to buy a copy. And I got to tell her that, too. It's called Carol Carr: The Collected Writings (Surinam Turtle Press/Ramble House, 2014) and it includes samples of her fanzine blogging and five of her six stories. (The sixth, the second best one, was co-authored with Karen Haber and is in Karen's collection The Sweet Taste of Regret.)

The favorite story is called "Look, You Think You've Got Troubles" and it was published in Damon Knight's Orbit in 1970, belying Orbit's reputation for difficult high-literary fiction, for Carol's story is a humorous romp, though with a serious point. It's a first-person narrative by a middle-aged Jewish man whose style has the Yiddish inflection still common among older Jews when this story was new. But it has a serious topic. It's a story about prejudice. Hector, our narrator, is disgusted that his daughter has married a Martian - who, according to Hector, look disgustingly like vegetables with legs - and refuses to have anything to do with it.

Carol says in the preface in her book that "This is a very dated piece of work - misogynistic, ageist, antisemitic, blindly ethnocentric ..." But it isn't antisemitic to show a Jew as being as fallible as the rest of us, and the story isn't those other things: Hector is.

The story avoids being obnoxious by several clever techniques. First, the daughter is marrying not a human, but a Martian. The parallel with real-life racial prejudice is obvious, but it's distanced. None of the specifics of Hector's disgust land blows.

But it takes more than that to make this a good story. Second, Hector's prejudice is continually undercut. Both his wife and his daughter are offended by his response, and just refuse to accept it. Hector continually reports this while seeming oblivious to it. This contrast forms the bulk of the story's humor. When the daughter invites her parents to visit them on Mars, Hector flatly refuses to go; section break; now he's on the spacecraft.

And lastly, at the end Hector realizes, not how ridiculous, but how unproductive and unhelpful he's being. He overcomes his prejudice and accepts and welcomes his son-in-law. Without being in the slightest less disgusted, he realizes that acceptance of the other is not in how you feel inside - that will come in due course - but in how you behave. One step at a time, and he takes that vital step.

Most of Carol's other stories also include aliens, but most of them are hidden or disguised in one way or another. Could that mean something?

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