Please welcome our new intern, Susannah Long, who is writing today about Jill McCorkle’s Going Away Shoes.
Jill McCorkle has me thinking about shoes. Not styles and prices and the long-term benefits of arch-support, but more along the lines of, What are our shoes telling us? And what are they telling other people about us?
I just finished reading Going Away Shoes, a collection of eleven short stories about family dysfunction and the pitfalls of human relationships, all of which, in one way or another, reference footwear. McCorkle suggests that our shoes are more important than we give them credit for. And she might be right. They allow us to go out and do. Nine times out of ten, when someone asks, “You ready to go?” your answer is going to be, “Just gotta put my shoes on.” But they also define our limits. Wearing sneakers? Can’t eat at certain restaurants. Wearing sandals? Better hope it doesn’t rain. Wearing high heels? Don’t get chased.
Right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop, eyeing everyone else’s choice in shoes. That lady’s boots are out of style, but she’s sensible and warm and dry. Whereas, this other chick is wearing some sparkling sort of dress shoe and is probably getting a mild case of frostbite, running around in this weather. Oh, and there’s that guy, with the two-tone leather lace-ups that say, “I’m not a professor yet, but someday I’ll delight in talking over three-hundred heads at once.” Not to judge or anything, because I think, a lot of times, we wear the shoes of the person we want to be. I certainly do.
I remember being twelve and discovering the magic of punk rock. I was about as hardcore as a homeschooler, but I had my mom take me to the mall and I put down my $40 for a pair of black Converse. They were the first shoes I ever bought with my own money and they were too stiff and too clean to wear to school, so I just wore them around the house for the first few months—trying to make them look like they belonged on me. Or maybe, like I belonged in them.
The last story in the collection is called “Me and Bigfoot.” It’s about a single woman who comes to care for a stranger’s pair of work boots. Though she’s never even seen the boot owner, she thinks up the perfect man to fill those empty shoes and goes along as if the figment of her imagination were a real person; a real relationship. Normally, this would come across as pathetic or delusional, but in light of the previous ten stories (divorce, adultery, addiction, abuse) I think McCorkle is making a point about the true value in all relationships: Other people are only who you make them. Every day, we have to look at the piles of shoes by our front doors and decide how we’re going to love the people who wear them. We have to look at the shoes on our own feet and decide that we’re worth loving.
That may be a whole lot of meaning to assign to a silly pair of shoes, but from where I sit, snug in some black Converse, it seems like as good a way as any to examine life—and justify shoe shopping.