I am not going to deny that one of the reasons for picking this short story to review was the title. What feminist hasn’t dreamed of the death of Carrie Bradshaw, that femme fatale of materialism and faux independence? Bit of a spoiler here, but there is in fact no death of Carrie Bradshaw. However, in a brief nineteen pages, Patricia Grace King portrays fear, love and a tender and affecting coming-of-age story which entirely makes up for the absence of a Carrie Bradshaw-shaped corpse.
One of the most striking elements of this short story is that it is narrated by a man. Now of course this is not an oddity, nor should women only write female characters (this would be absurd) but the gender of the narrator was most striking in this story purely for the fact that I had not expected it. The story, published as a chapbook, won the 2011 Kore Press Short Fiction Award, and to this end I was expecting the same fare: an emotionally bruised female narrator with cigarette burns up her arms and a penchant for sleeping with angry men and looking numbly out at grey skylines.
What I got instead was so completely different. Patricia Grace King has written a tender, beautiful and moving story of a man who is unable to tell his father he is gay. In the character’s affair with one of his students, Patricia Grace King has also written a paean to realisation. To that moment where you know that your love will be wasted—that, truth be told, they could never love you the way you love them.
This tender story of one man’s secret love for one of his students is carefully enclosed in a wider tale of violence and fear. The Columbine and Virginia Tech tragedies are first and foremost in the mind of the main character (a lecturer at a Midwestern college), and also the college student’s thoughts as soon as the alarms begin to scream during class. He is at first rational, running through all of the possible explanations for such an alarm. Then as the class becomes ever more anxious he begins to be carried away with them, swept away in a tide of paranoia and fear. But what is he so afraid of? Death? Or his affair with a student being known? Or is it his father, who is visiting at the time, sitting at the back of the classroom, an unsettlingly quiet presence in a room full of questions.
Patricia Grace King’s “The Death of Carrie Bradshaw” may not be the middle finger to Sex and the City’s faux feminism you yearn for, but it does give you a tense and thought-provoking story of a character you may not have had much experience with in literature, and for that it deserves to be applauded.