A Farewell to Walmart by Carly J. Hallman is a Kindle Single (it is short) that I downloaded using a Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscription. The reason I gave it five stars was the tone of the writing. Combining humor with insightful observation, she was describing the place where I grew up, Indiana (OK, I didn’t grow up in Texas, but you get the idea).
Hallman describes her life from age eight to twenty-two as she attempts to deny the awkward realities of life in the small Texas town of Granbury, Texas. The goal was to leave Granbury. The reality was that there was no money to do it. Father had a series of part-time low-paying jobs. Some of the jobs her mother had were part-time or unpaid volunteer jobs. The family lived in a trailer. Even living in a double-wide trailer, the term trailer trash applied and was applied by her school friends and classmates. How could anyone learn about the world outside the small town? How could anyone develop goals beyond finding a job in Granbury?
The answer was Walmart. It brought the world to Granbury, Texas. This short story does not condemn Walmart for using economy-of-scale pricing to push out community mom and pop operations. Walmart just serves as a background for working out growing up angst in a small town. When Carly wanted to decorate her trailer bedroom, she had anxiety about purchasing furniture from Walmart. Everyday expendables, sure, no problem, but if you wanted furniture you should go to a proper furniture store in a neighboring town. But if she had to buy furniture from Walmart, at least she had to make sure she would not meet classmates as she shopped.
Carly faced a lot of realities at Walmart during her adolescence. She discovered that she did not have telepathic powers when communicating with lobsters. She experienced getting lost in a very big store and felt growing knowledge of dangers a young girl could face when lost in the company of a great number of unfamiliar adults. And she gives the reader some great quotes about the nature of fear such as this: “The worst thing about fear is not its irrationality or its sticky refusal to leave us be. It’s the way it shape-shifts, transforms into prejudices, narratives, convenient excuses.” (loc 220-221).
Hallman uses vocabulary that is earthy but not crude. Her humor uses exaggeration that is fun to read. An example from a time when she will be in a modeling contest (at Walmart, of course) is: “I brought up the fashion show news to my mom, hoping she’d express bewilderment and then tell me that we had something else to do that day, such as mop the kitchen floor or clean out the pantry or commit mass suicide.” (loc 262-263).
Hallman does escape. She also returns after a period away for education and travel. It is interesting to read her take on the oft-quoted “You can’t go home again.” This short story is a fun and refreshing read in a genre different from my usual reads. It led me to purchase a longer novel, “Year of the Goose,” in which Hallman will exercise her wit in a Chinese context. At least, that is what I get from the advertising blurb. Now to see how it works out.