Originally Published in Granta Magazine – Issue #109, Winter 2009
Brad Watson’s story ‘Vacuum’ is published exclusively in Granta 109: Work. It will also appear in Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives, to be published this year by W. W. Norton. Three boys – known to us only as the ‘oldest brother’, ‘middle brother’ and ‘youngest brother’ – try to watch a western, obstructed by their mother vacuuming in front of the television. ‘The boys really wanted to see what was going to happen in the western show, but now they had missed it because they had been watching their mother make faces and then yell that one day she would walk out of the house and never come back.’ They try to solicit help from a maid their father had fired; the neighbour Dr Hornegay arrives, besuited and carrying whiskey. The boys decide to entertain themselves with some experimental outdoor stunts. Granta’s Patrick Ryan interviewed the author about the story’s inception, the role of the middle brother, and the strains on mothers as they started going out to work, with task of keeping a household together undiminished.
PR: In ‘Vacuum’, the middle brother emerges into a place of prominence by the end. He’s the one we learn the most about, internally, and the one who is the most changed. Did you know this (his prominence) was going to happen all along, or is it something you discovered as you drafted the story?
BW: Well, although it’s unusual for this to happen for me (I hear a lot of other writers claim it) this story did emerge from the single image of the mother, angry, vacuuming while her three boys watched television, a little dumbfounded and afraid. That’s a memory from my childhood that’s always stuck with me, and I always wanted to get a story from it. So, given that it’s my memory, and I was the one affected by it enough never to forget it, I guess it was inevitable the middle brother (I was a middle brother) would become central. That said, I want to add that after the image of the mother vacuuming, the story is entirely fictional except for the emotional content of the middle brother’s experience (and the razor blade incident – that really happened). My parents were not like those parents, and the supporting characters are fictional. MORE at Granta