Monday, January 21, 2008

Short Story Monday III - "An Outside Interest"

Everyone should have an “outside interest,” some activity or interest apart from their normal routine to keep them alert and enthusiastic about their lives, even more than one if they have the time. Everybody needs a hobby, right? Well, as Ruth Rendell points out in her short story, “An Outside Interest,” there are hobbies and then there are hobbies.

The unnamed narrator of Rendell’s story is a pretty ordinary guy, married, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and doing his bit to provide for his wife and son. But he’s unable to provide housing that his wife feels is safe enough for her to walk the neighborhood alone so she expects him to walk her to and from her errands. That is probably what gave him the idea for a new outside interest of his own.

The more he heard the horror stories told by his wife and her friends, the more powerful he felt and the more thankful that he was male. When he accidentally frightened a lone female walker one evening, the burst of excitement that he felt hooked him on his new interest and he began to regularly seek out lone women as targets of intimidation. Rendell does her usual worthy job of placing the reader right inside the head of even a deviant like this one, and the man’s rationalizations for his behavior almost start to make a perverted sort of sense as he repeats them to himself over and over.

But, of course, all good things must end and this is no exception. Rendell slowly builds the story’s suspense as her “stalker” becomes ever bolder in his confrontations and the reader’s sense of dread becomes stronger and stronger. Unfortunately, the ending is rather predictable, one that I could see coming about two-thirds of the way through the story, and detracts from its overall impact. This is not one of Ruth Rendell’s stronger efforts.

From the Ruth Rendell short story collection called The Fever Tree

Rated at: 2.5

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