I believe it was The Atlantic magazine that carried a one page short story on its last page. And in its writer’s guidelines, it said it was looking for stories with the impact of a whole novel. The one story I remember was amazing. It was about a man whose wife had just died. And going through her things, he found a collection of illustrations of their son who had been killed in an accident when he was quite young. Apparently, every year, she went to a forensic artist to get an update on what he would look like. She told the artist that he had been kidnapped. It’s a heartbreaking story — not just that she never got over the loss but that she hid it from her husband for years.
There are songs that have a similar power. One of those is Jerry Chesnut’s country classic, “A Good Year for the Roses.” It’s so evocative. What’s especially great is the use of lipstick traces. First, it’s on the cigarettes in the ashtray. And then we get this beautiful mixture of pathos and bitterness:
That you poured and didn’t drink
But at least you thought you wanted it,
That’s so much more than I can say for me.
The other aspect that maybe is specific to me: the chorus about only being able to talk about trivialities when you want to talk about something deep. I know everyone has had that experience. But it has long been a painful irony that I can write but not really talk. Of course, in “A Good Year for the Roses,” Chesnut makes the obvious truth concrete in the second verse, “I guess the reason we’re not talking — there’s so little left to say we haven’t said.” By the time it reaches that point, talking is worthless.
But “A Good Year for the Roses” really is a novel in a song. You can listen to Chesnut do part of the song, but here is the whole original by George Jones:
Yes, I know that Elvis Costello did this song on Almost Blue. And I love his version and that album. But even the biggest Costello fan has to admit that he didn’t do much with any of those covers. The production and performance are often identical — which I believe was the point. Regardless, I think it is far more likely that readers of Frankly Curious are familiar with his version than Jones’ version, much less Chesnut’s.