Reading Caponegro’s The Complexities of Intimacy: “The Son’s Burden”

This 113-page novella is the centerpiece of Caponegro’s book of stories. As in the first stories (articles here, here and here), it again presents a family, but a family fragmented by misconceptions and hatred. After a prelude, most of the work takes place on New Year’s Eve and gives off the air of Long Day’s Journey into Night.

The story is narrated by the son, Thomas Edward Smalldridge, a toiling inventor. His father is a bullying railroad worker who has long tormented his son and daughter (Eleanor) by making them learn and recite obscure facts about inventors, inventor’s birth dates, their patents and patent dates. At some point early on the father’s harpist wife went to live in the attic of the house, never coming down to the family except for New Year’s–the day when Thomas is to reveal his new invention. But Thomas’s inventions never satisfy his father because they aren’t practical enough and he, along with Eleanor, seemingly insult him every chance they get. Thomas, meanwhile, has an attachment to his mother–he grieves her and her harp, which she held against her womb and played when he was inside her, as well as when she breastfed him. On this night as well, Thomas has brought Cecilia, his finance, to meet the family and will ask his father to give him money to buy a wedding ring–a request denied. Thomas introduces the characters and story this way in the fourth paragraph:
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