April 1, 2013

"Marjorie Lemke"

By Sarah Braunstein
~6300 words

A hotel maid with low self esteem has an affair with a guest recovering from bariatric surgery.

At twenty years old, Marjorie Lemke believes herself to be the "major loser" she was first called in the fourth grade. A recovering drug addict and single mother of an infant girl, she sleeps on a pullout sofa in her aunt's basement and carries her baby, Della, around with her on the hotel cleaning cart. One day while cleaning rooms she meets Gabe, who is recovering from a stomach-stapling operation while his wife travels around on a "union busting" job. They strike up a relationship that quickly goes beyond friendship. When Marjorie learns that Gabe wants a child so badly he has sabotaged his wife's diaphragm, she suggests that she will give him Della.

The strength of the story lies in the complexity of the characters and the symbolic ties that unite them: both Marjorie, who has something she doesn't want (a fatherless child), and Gabe, who wants something he doesn't have (a baby of his own). The solution is seemingly simple yet so shocking that it can only be alluded to in the powerful final scene. The figure of Gabe's wife, Violet, rounds out the story with yet another well-crafted character.

Speaking of character, the story presents an interesting problem: how to endear readers to a protagonist who doesn't really like herself. The author attempts this difficult task in three ways: first, by offering a telescoped retrospective of Marjorie's life in the first paragraph, so that we quickly come to see her lost innocence and vulnerability; second, by making the character self-aware, conscious of her own weaknesses; and third, by showing her struggling—and mostly failing—to overcome them. What emerges is a complex portrait of a deeply flawed woman.

While the language of "Marjorie Lemke" is unexceptional and the plot minimal, the strongly fashioned characters make it a worthwhile read.


Reader poll: I found "Marjorie Lemke" to be ___.

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