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Almost everyone has some sort of experience at one point in their life that they hoped they would forget. Some have experiences so bad, so traumatic, that they in fact do forget; tucking it way in the deep corner of their mind, hoping it will never peak its ugly head again. However, in some instances, it will peak its head again, it will come back to haunt you, and until you confront and accept this horrible experience, you will never be able to move on. This is what "Midair" by Frank Conroy is about. The story opens up with the abduction of Sean and his sister Mary by their father. Their father, whom they haven't seen in some time, picks up him and his sister Mary up from school.
Mary refers to the foreign man as "Daddy", a word that doesn't settle too well with Sean, as they are taken to their house. Lacking a key, the three have to break into the apartment through the fire escape and an open window. Once inside, the father essentially forces the children to partake in the obsessive activities of putting the bookcase in alphabetical order and washing the windows. The up-to-this-point pleasant story is then given a good kick in the face by reality, when the father observes an ambulance outside.
He proceeds to run around the apartment, ripping off all the curtains screaming "you bastards." A trio of men from the insane asylum then breaks into the room where Sean, Mary, and their father are located. The hysteria of the break in causes the father to pick Sean up, throw him over his shoulder, and walk out onto the ledge outside of the window they had just broken through. The men who had just broken into their apartment then pull Sean to safety after Sean gets a glance of the street below. This experience is so horrible, that Sean blocks it from his memory. The story continues with Sean in college, where he meets an unnamed girl that he marries a few years later.
The marriage unsatisfying, Sean finds it necessary to himself a mistress, Judy. One month while Judy is away, Sean feels the urge to experience her in her absence. He drives to her apartment, gets in through the main door, and finds himself unable to get into her room. He gives up temporarily, when he smells a waft of Judy through the crack in the door; his determination returns. With a little quick thinking the idea hits him to use the fire escape to go in through a possibly unlocked window, he fails and returns home. The story continues still with him and his unnamed wife attending a dinner party.
Sean and his wife are told a horrific story of the family in the apartment above, and how their infant child crawled through an open window falling eight stories to its death. The story hit Sean hard. An anxiety attack ensues, resulting in Sean and his wife's excusal from the party back to their house, the attack puzzles both Sean and his wife. The final continuation of the story is when Sean is driving home from work, and it hits him that that he must get out of his marriage. Once home, his older son Phillip calls out, "Daddy." Sean tells his family he must leave them, and moves away. A few years later he is living concurrently in Boston and Philadelphia, constantly commuting by air between the two by air.
At first he has a terrible fear of flying, looking out the window brings inexplicable fear to him. After a while, this fear subsides, and Sean becomes content with the whole process. The story closes with an experience on a broken down elevator. The elevator breaks down, and begins to fall. A fellow passenger is scared out of his mind, and isn't listening to the consoling words of Sean. Sean then grabs the disgruntled passenger, and screams some sense into him.
The man regains calmness and gets off as soon as possible; surprised that Sean remains on the elevator to go to the next floor. The whole story builds up to that point where Sean slaps some sense into the scared man. Up until then, everything is just a continuation of Sean's encounter with his father that day in 1942. When he visits his mistress's vacant apartment, his obsession that drives him to break in resembles his father's obsession with cleaning the windows and arranging the books. His breaking in plan is the same exact plan as his father's years ago. When Sean freaks out when hearing of the baby falling out of the window, he is revisited by the traumatic experience of being dangled above the street by his lunatic father, same thing with his fear of flying.
The last straw is when Phillip addresses him as "Daddy." This was the final reminder of his father in this life. The word that his sister spoke that had brought so much unease to him was revisited, making it only appropriate that he moves on. Sean does move on. After talking the sense into the scared elevator passenger, and remaining on the elevator after he probably should have gotten off symbolized Sean's moving on from his traumatic childhood experience.
This moving on, is what I think is what this story is about. Readers are constantly reminded of this bizarre / horrible experience that they were subjected to in the first eight pages of the story. Then the experience is ditched, completely forgotten about, and not reminded about again until the end when Sean remembers "looking down at the cracks in the sidewalk. Here, in the darkness, he can see the cracks in the sidewalk from more than forty years ago. He feels no fear." Having confronted the fear of the man, he in a way confronted the fear of heights, the word daddy, obsession...
and his father, and was able to move on. The book provides a good plot line, with a good climax, and very good closure. The massive surprise of the father being crazy at the start leaves the reader to suspect something outrageous is going to happen again, leaving a complete lack of surprise for anything else that happens in the story. Being as bizarre as it is, the story doesn't reflect any norm of American culture, nor does it about any other culture. All and all, the stories interesting plot line was good enough to keep me entertained, leaving me anything but bored at the end of the last line..
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