Publisher’s note: Avis, the protagonist of Gina Ochsner’s short story “Break” (in our anthology The Female Complaint) works two jobs—as a school librarian during the day, and a worker at a retirement home on evenings and weekends. Her life offers her moments of perfect beauty amidst much longer stretches of tedium and frustration; and the many possible meanings of the simple word “break” resonate throughout the story. Here Gina discusses what inspired the story.
“Break” was a the result of a series of odd impulses and inspirations. The northern Oregon coast is often dark, wild, treacherous. The wind howls through the trees and the rain lashes at windows and batters houses.
Just north of Warrenton, the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean. The collision between the currents creates a cauldron at the mouth of the Columbia that is known as the Pacific Graveyard. Two thousand vessels have sunk on or near the shifting sand bars at the mouth, and during the heyday of gillnetting and canning in Astoria, at least forty fishermen a year were lost.
And yet this is a place of exceptional beauty, attracting weekenders and holiday visitors.
The story is lodged in the viewpoint of a woman who harbors a great deal of resentment over the poor hand life has dealt to her. She’s a woman working in a world of men and children, and her position of power is questioned by both. How women navigate the currents of power and authority in their working lives and relationships interests me a great deal.
Likewise, the power adults wield over children, whether unwittingly or with great calculation (and cruelty?) also fascinates me. I volunteered in a third grade classroom and could detect within five minutes which children the teacher liked and which she did not.
I imagine children find adults wildly capricious, arbitrary and bewildering. Ditto for those dependent upon others for their bodily care. In the smallest of gestures caregivers show love and mete punishment. I wanted to create a character who experiences an unflattering revelation about herself and her own motivations.
Gina Ochsner is the author of the story collections The Necessary Grace to Fall and People I Wanted to Be and the novel The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight, which was long-listed for the Orange Award. She lives in Keizer, Oregon, and teaches writing and literature at Corban University and with Seattle Pacific’s Low Residency MFA program.