Isolation by Lucy Hayden Ancram in Paul Auster’s True Tales of American Life. The short story Isolation is a story about grief and how not to deal with it. Six teenage children, five girls and a boy, have lost their mother, she has been murdered, and their father does not know how to help them. Escape and intoxication are the means the father uses to relieve the children of their sorrow and they all go to a summer house on Long Island. The father brings booze and cigarettes but not much food and even the younger daughters drink from the break of dawn.
The story is a first person narrative and the narrator is the second oldest daughter. She is telling the story as a memory from 20 years ago. The story starts in medias res, a week after the funeral of the children’s mother. In the end the flashback is apparent when the narrator comments on life as it has turned out later on for the children. We get the impression that the children have had an easy life up until the murder. The narrator states, “We shared our pot but not our favorite clothes. Maybe the sheer number of children has forced through fairly liberal norms in the family. However, judging by the behaviour of the father, the parents can’t have been particularly strict either. At one point in the text we get the impression that the father has been the indulgent parent in the family. A visiting cousin comments on all the drinking. She thinks that it is wrong that the young children drink. The comment makes some of the children cry and it seems that the children are reminded of their mother who would probably have stopped the drinking.
The language is sober throughout the story even though the subject of how you deal with loss is touching. For this reason, the tragic morale in the end is magnified. In the end the narrator observes that the family has never moved on. She states that “all of us are still there, floating and rocking back and forth, letting the time pass as we wait for things to get better. ” It is clear that the loss of their mother has left the children in a situation where no one can reach them.
The loss has put them in a place of isolation both physically and metaphorically. Maybe the isolation and the intoxication have spared them the confrontation which is needed to get over a loss. For instance, the cousin clearly could not get through to them. The narrator states, “(the cousin) moved through us like a walking television that’s been left on and that you don’t want to watch. ” Clearly, the father succeeds in isolating the family and the problem. However, in this way, the family has stayed isolated and depressed for 20 years.