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Smoke & Mirrors with Corey Farrenkopf

Interview by Joel Coltharp (Read the Story) March 21, 2022

Corey Farrenkopf

Corey Farrenkopf

I am intrigued by the choice to have the husband and not Sarah narrate the story, as the death of the latter’s father plays such a significant role in the narrative, and Sarah is, unsurprisingly, the more distraught of the two. What are the advantages of writing this story from the narrator’s unique perspective?

When I was thinking about this story, I figured I could tell it one of two ways: the first from the perspective of someone grieving the loss of their father, or the second from the perspective of someone trying to help their loved one cope with the loss of their father. For the story to work, I had to go with the second. If I had gone with the first, it would have probably made the narrator seem calloused, as if they were taking advantage of their father’s death to make money. But with number two, the narrator is doing what he can to keep his family financially afloat and trying to make the situation easier on his wife. Also, I think there are more opportunities for humor with the husband as the narrator, and for a story dealing with heavy topics, it’s always cool to throw in some comedy.

There are several seemingly revealing lines throughout that convey a sense of removal, mistrust, or even antagonism between the husband and Sarah (e.g., “I catch Sarah looking out the back windows of our house at night” and “Sarah never elaborated on what she watched”). How does this relate to the husband’s efforts to emotionally navigate this relationship in the aftermath of the father-in-law’s death?

That’s interesting. I never saw his reactions as antagonistic or mistrusting. I was trying to come at it from an angle of curiosity, as if the narrator half believes in the father’s ghost (or at least in the potential it exists) but doesn’t want to pry too much in case it would upset Sarah. I’m hoping that his actions/comments come across as caring rather than calloused. Even the lie of the ghost in the listing is his attempt to help, in his own way … because roofs are expensive and there aren’t many other opportunities to make quick cash where they live. For him, listing the rental in such a way might take some financial burden away from Sarah as well.

One of the most compelling themes concerns the degree to which so many things get repurposed: An old Winnebago has been turned into a new Airbnb, a defunct bait-and-tackle store now serves as a community center, Sarah’s father’s final residence has become a source of income for the couple. In what ways does this reflect the trajectory of the narrator’s relationship with Sarah?

I’m glad you picked up on that note. My wife and I are both librarians who are involved with different environmental/sustainability movements in the field, so repurposing everything is very present in our thoughts (My director and I just repurposed an old CD cabinet for use as a seed library where I work). In the context of the story, I hope people look at repurposing as a way of getting what the husband and wife both need, even if it isn’t the easiest—or most pleasant—course of action. They rent an Airbnb because they need the money to pay bills. Instead of purchasing something new (like building a little Airbnb cabin in the backyard), potentially adding more waste to a landfill or going even more in debt, they use what resources are available to them to stay afloat. I think all of the characters I write these days are very environmentally conscious, even if it isn’t stated directly on the page, so when I talk about repurposing/reusing in my stories, it’s usually more literal than metaphorical.

Your story also seems to observe parallels between relationship negotiations (e.g., the husband cleaning the trailer because Sarah can’t emotionally deal with that task and managing the online listing because “Sarah doesn’t do much for our rental initiative”) and those involving any business and its customers (e.g., relying on customer reviews and lying about the trailer being haunted to recruit additional customers). Is this transactional state to specific to this couple at this point in time, or is it something you feel emerges in every relationship?

I’d say it emerges in every relationship. I was hoping to portray an inevitability for working couples under capitalism. I feel as though, unless you have a ton of money buried in your backyard, everyone has to hustle. Therefore, while the narrator takes care of the Airbnb, his wife is doing other things to support their relationship (her own work, house maintenance, emotional support). We don’t see it on the page, but it’s definitely there. It’s a system of balance I believe should be present in every healthy relationship.

Finally, what is the narrative significance of setting this story in a “rusted city, abandoned when industry dove into the sea?” What makes these characters stay in such a place?

I often set my fiction in such places. A number of towns/cities I’ve either worked in or lived in or spent significant time in would fall into such a category, so they’re always on my mind. In my flash, I usually try to nail the setting down in two to three sentences, and I feel like this one conveyed a lot in very minimal space. It also helps push the narrative line that times are tough for Sarah and the narrator, that they don’t have money, and those around them don’t have money, and the city itself is in a bad place, so they really need that extra income from the “haunted” rental. They stay because that’s where they’re from, that’s where their jobs are, that’s where they feel safe. They’re not living the high life by any means, but they also aren’t starving, and they own their house, so there are a number of things anchoring them in place.

About the Author

Corey Farrenkopf lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. He is the fiction editor for The Cape Cod Poetry Review. His work has been published in The Southwest Review, Catapult, Tiny Nightmares, Redivider, Wigleaf, Hobart, Flash Fiction Online, Bourbon Penn, and elsewhere. To learn more, follow him on twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf.

About the Interviewer

Joel Coltharp lives in Springfield, Missouri, where he is an instructor of creative writing and literature at Missouri State University. His fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and cultural criticism has appeared or is forthcoming in Carve, Notre Dame Review, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He also serves as Fiction Editor for Moon City Review.

This interview appeared in Issue Seventy-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Five

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