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A Week's Warning
When Shtick Goes Sideways... Beautifully
Some years back National Public Radio asked me to tape an event at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side in New York. The program would consist of four well-known actors reading aloud stories I’d chosen. Two stories by other authors and two of my own.
Among the stories I chose was Through the Safety Net by Charles Baxter. NPR asked Becky Ann Baker to read it. Symphony Space is a vast, black-painted auditorium. Backstage I got to nervously hang out with Baker and her husband Dylan Baker. I say nervously because Becky Ann told me she’d disliked the story at first. It read like B-side Woody Allen stand-up comedy. She’d almost passed on the opportunity… but then she’d finished reading the story.
And yeah, on stage that night it started like shtick. She got a lot of goofy laughs up front. But by the end of the story the audience was stunned. The auditorium was silent, with the quality of people who’d been frightened to the core.
Through the Safety Net is a fast read, a very short story, and takes place in three clear segments. Once you’ve read it you’ll see its lasting effect in much of the popular culture since its publication in 1985. That’s all I’ll say for now. This next Saturday I’ll revisit this topic.