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The Charmer is a short story written by Budge Wilson, which fills nine pages total. The story is told through first person narrative and it involves two timelines, with the priority on a flashback into the childhood of the main character, Winniefred. She starts the story by introducing herself, and mentions a journey of growth and coming full circle. She then flashes back to her childhood, and mentions a boy, her brother Zachary. She mentions how mesmerized and charmed could be based off of what he says.
Bewitched, even. We learn that Zach was always a popular kid, who could do what he wanted without consequence. Surprisingly, his whole family, even the parents, would bite at every word he said. Winnie reflects upon one of the many instances in her early childhood where this shows, Zach manipulating his way around consequence. It’s written to seem as good natured, but Winnie comments on how fraudulent Zach truly was. Winnie tells us about the dark side of Zach, smoking, drinking, gambling.
Zach would have rages, smashing up his parents car, or dumping tool boxes into rivers. But after each incident, he’d deliver an overly dramatized apology, and it worked. Every instance, it worked. Winnie then jumps ahead in time to when she was beginning to see the true Zach, and not the deceitful image he was perceived as. The youngest in the family, Lizzie, had been diagnosed with leukaemia. She was the sibling whom idolized Zach the most, as her age inflated her naivety.
Every member of the family went to visit her each day, except for her hero, Zachary. He finally decided to show up, and it made Lizzie ecstatic. But as we learn from Winnie, that was the only time Zach ever visited her. As Lizzie’s condition plummeted, their mother would plead to Zach to show up. He’d make some sort of excuse each time, but now it was only the mother forgiving him. The others started to realize his act. The final nail in the coffin was the day Lizzie died. Zach was the only one missing. Yet as the family walked out coping with the horrific news, there Zach was, sober, bearing gifts, and orchids. Zach didn’t show up at home until four days later, where he tried to pull off another one of his acts. The mother eats it all up, but their father doesn’t buy any of it. He suggests that Zach should own up to what he says, or simply, pack up and get out. Zach makes his decision. Without words, he went up the stairs, packed his stuff, and left. We then cut back to modern day Winniefred. She introduces her current situation, and mentions her daughter, Stephanie. Stephanie is the light of their household. According to Winnie, Stephanie suddenly, ‘raced into the kitchen, pushed her two sisters out of the way, and chucked a jug of milk against the wall.’ (Pg. 8) Stephanie stops, walks over to her mother, and begins to apologize. Winniefred’s first instinct is to hold her daughter in her arms and console her. But a voice goes off in the back of her mind, and she thinks back on the recent actions of her daughter. These outbursts have started to trend, and so had the heartwarming apologies. Winnie makes the decision to make Stephanie face the consequences of her actions, and clean up the damage from the milk jug. After telling Stephanie so, she walks out the kitchen door, and quietly mutters three words. ‘Thank you, Zachary.’ (Pg. 9)
Throughout the story, Budge Wilson creates a theme of familial dysfunction, and how different members of the family will react to situations. When Zach would deliver and apology, each member acted differently. The father would go outside, and sit alone for a period of time. ‘Later on, Dad would just leave the room and go out to his work shed and sit and rock and rock in that old chair of his.’ (Pg. 4) The mother would smother him or laugh it off, as we see in the cake incident. (Pg. 3 & 4) The three sisters would laugh about it. This led me to compare to my current family. I live in two different households. One with just my dad, and the other includes my mom, step-dad and step-brother. Over the years, I’ve been able to assign various roles to each family member based off of how different reactions go. I know my dad has a short temper, and will over-react to extremely minute things. My mom acts as though she has two different personalities, becoming upset at a certain thing, then apologizing for it minutes later. My step-dad likes things a certain way, always wants you to help around the household, and is quick to deal out punishments, but is very forgiving and understanding in terms of confiding in. And my step-brother seems to just float along in life, without a care. My mom and step-dad also seem to never agree on parental techniques, or ways to deal out a consequence, just like the two parents in The Charmer. The line, ‘I think Mom saw the justice of what Dad did, but I don’t think she ever forgave him for it,’ shows that they had different ways with dealing with things. Their situation, in terms of family relations, seemed similar to mine, and I can relate to what relationships are like in that kind of environment.
Zachary is an extremely well written character, and has several traits that would be classified as ‘vile’, but the one that stands out the most to me is his callousness towards others. He has no regard for his family, as he shows by showing up only once when his sister was sick with cancer. (Pg. 5) Even when his mother states, ‘Lizzie keeps asking for you,’ instead of caring for his sick sister, he throws a temper tantrum. (Pg. 5) His complete lack of empathy towards others reminds me of an autobiography I read by Kevin Mitnick, called ‘Ghost in the Wires.’ It’s about the life of an infamous phone phreaker named Kevin Mitnick. Zach remind me of the way Kevin portrays himself in his teenage years. Phone phreaking is the act of illegally breaking into telephone lines and services, and Kevin had taken interest in it during his teenage years. He uses it for the sole purpose of pulling malicious pranks that he thought would be funny. He didn’t have a single care as to how it would affect people, or even the companies he was phreaking through. Zach’s apathetic actions when his sister was diagnosed caused me to think back to Kevin’s actions in the early days, and I instinctively compared how their futures panned out. They turned out almost as polar opposites. Zach continued down his path of poor decisions, as we can infer from this line, ‘Zach rode the rails out west, and we heard from Alberta friends that he drifted around the small towns out there, trying this job and that, playing poker, drinking cheap wine, always moving on. Kevin, on the other hand, learned from his early mistakes (sort-of), and tried to quit. Although he couldn’t fully quit due to his addiction towards phreaking, he served his time and now works as a security consultant, helping companies protect themselves from people like him. Although I find they’re similar in their late-teens and mid-twenties, both Kevin and Zach followed different paths in the long run.
For how short The Charmer was, Budge Wilson did an amazing job at developing the characters, creating thought provoking themes, and uses the style of flashback extraordinarily. Zach, as a character, plays into this whole theme of selfishness. Zach is manipulative, self-absorbed, and irresponsible. He takes advantage of things he notices within people, and will use it without remorse to get what he wants. Calling Winniefred ‘Posie’ (Pg. 2), has no other explanation than that. He’ll use others belongings as if they’re his, as in always having the family car (Pg. 5) or taking the hard earned money of his parents (Pg. 4). Budge uses the style of flashback to help convey this character, but from the eyes of a different character. She uses Winnie as the eyes we view this story from so we can see how those close to you react if you go down the same path Zach did. Budge wants us to see the theme of selfishness, and realize the consequences that your relationships and wellbeing suffer going down that path. Another reason Budge uses flashback is so we get the resolution at the end of the story. It helps the reader see that there are ways to help and change someone who’s selfish, and also further gets the message of consequence due to selfishness across.
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