“Hopefulness” by Ryan Mecklenburg could bring to some reader’s minds visions of Desperate Housewives, but with less attractive people and more depth. The central idea of the story is how we spend our time, or what do we do when we are released from the constraints of having to work? Is there such a thing as too much free time?
For the main character, (the story is in the first person, and I forgot his name) he decides to fill his free time by being captain of the neighborhood watch. Seems like an easy way to be active in the community and fill some time. However, that’s not how he approaches the activity. Rigidity and routine are words that describe the narrator’s behavior. It’s not just in the neighborhood watch, but in his meticulous cleaning and reorganizing of his garage.
As the story progresses, we learn that the narrator’s family has fallen apart. His wife has had an affair and left him, while the narrator watches over the neighborhood, and witnesses the house of his wife’s lover slowly crumble through foreclosure, theft, and vandalism. It makes the narrator more human to see his pettiness play out in this way, instead of forcing his strict neighborhood watch policies on the man whom he loathes. Moreover, this is a nice play on ideas. The narrator ever watchful fails to see his wife cheating on him.
Time plays out and the narrator must confront the reality that his wife has taken their son and left. It seems that while he admits to losing his wife, he realizes that once the divorce goes through, his son will be back in his life, and this pulls him through, his love for his son. By the end, the narrator is nudged back toward the man whom he was, though with work still needed.
What I enjoyed about “Hopefulness” is the tone. There’s a lightness, like an early morning in the neighborhood, that infuses the prose. It reminded me a little bit of Charles Baxter’s writing.