Roller Coaster, by Richard Buxton
Sometimes one can get a sense of what an author is about by looking at the common concerns that one’s stories deal with , and such is the case here. Sometimes as well it is worthwhile to comment on how one comes across a story. In this case, I had reviewed a previous story by the author some time ago only to find that the author himself was interested in having me become more familiar with some of his other works, pointing me to his winning story in the Bedford Writing Competition. I was given the heads up that this story was not about the Civil War, unlike the general body of the author’s writing, but even so if one reads this short and enjoyable story, there is a lot of parallels that one can make between this work and the author’s other work and that is something worth exploring. After all, the presence of a thread in an author’s work is often a good indication that something is worth researching and digging into or at least pondering over, given that such threads do not appear by accident, at least not to the mind that seeks meaning.
Be that as it may, this story has a rather straightforward setup. A family goes to Florida on vacation where at least one of them is trying to overcome his fears by riding on some fearsome roller coasters. I must admit I’m pretty fond of riding roller coasters myself, so this is definitely something I can appreciate. After an exhilarating day of riding roller coasters, there is an uncertain interaction in the evening with someone and in the morning it is discovered that even after such an enjoyable day that they had where fears were being challenged there is still an upside of fear, still a reason to be afraid, and the story ends with an interesting attempt on the part of the characters of the story to make themselves more safe in the face of a world that has become threatening to them in a way that they had not thought about before. The story, of course, hangs on the juxtaposition of those fears that we want to get over because they hinder our enjoyment of life (like the fear of roller coasters) and the fears of that which is actually threatening and dangerous to us.
This examination into the upside of fear would appear to be a serious concern of the author and one that is likely repeated, since it was a major aspect of the previous story I read of his as well. It is common in our day and age for people to think of fear or conditions related to fear (anxiety and PTSD among them) as simply negative phenomena, but there is a positive aspect to them as well. After all, we do live in a dangerous world and there are people whose evil threatens our lives and well-being. Sometimes these people may be family members, sometimes they may be members of enemy armies, sometimes these people may be strangers who one encounters in one’s travels, but there are people who wish to cause us harm in this world and therefore to have some sort of fear that leads us to protect ourselves is a rational response to this fear. The question is, how do we make sure that our fears are not hindering our enjoyment but are protecting us, and that is a difficult but worthy challenge. This story presents the reader with a reflection on fear as a more complex phenomenon than is commonly thought to be the case.
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