Genre: I have no clue (Horror?)
Format: Short Story (33 pages)
Series: 7&7 Anthology
Publisher: DSP Publications (May 2016)
Bonus: Free on publisher’s site
Rating: ? stars (out of 5)
For the sake of completeness in covering this entire anthology, I am adding my commentary with no rating on this story, even though the author’s take on the vice of sloth was so far from mine I just couldn’t connect (or rate it fairly).
DSP Publication’s anthology covers 7 virtues and 7 vices, and the theme of Brandon Whitt’s story is the vice of sloth.
Levitt is a teacher who just skates by at work with an attitude about doing as little as possible to get through the day. He is looking forward to chaperoning a school trip to the mountains where he plans to enjoy as much quiet alone time as possible. Unfortunately, his type-A, smart, sexy, and super ambitious ex-lover is the principal of the school retreat facility, and facing his former love brings back emotions that the slothful Levitt has a hard time processing because he is so lazy.
This story just baffled me. The author elsewhere commented he didn’t really get sloth and wasn’t sure how to write about it. Other reviews have found the resulting story to be an interesting take on this vice with a worthy exploration. I just did not get it – many of Levitt’s actions (or inactions) did not seem like sloth or laziness to me, but perhaps more indicative of mental illness. The writing and story idea were not bad or particularly offensive (except for one possible interpretation), so I’m not inclined to rate it poorly, but it missed the mark so much with me I feel I cannot rate it all. (I would have just skipped any commentary – which I should have done with another story – but I wanted to complete a review of the entire anthology. Also, reading it did provoke some reflection on my part, so I will share some thoughts – with spoilers).
Commentary with spoilers:
Levitt did not seem like a typically lazy person to me – his inaction in response to all kinds of stimuli seemed to be an extremely over-the-top interpretation of the vice of sloth. On the one hand, this anthology is about all kinds of interpretations of each vice and virtue, so such an extreme approach to one of them is not necessary out of place. (And a critique of the vice being portrayed as “over-the-top” is a little unfair from me, as I have previously remarked on the low level of anger in the piece on that vice.)
However, to me Levitt’s behavior did not smack of a lazy or slothful character flaw that hindered him, but instead it really seemed like mental illness or extreme depression. One can argue that extreme practices of various vices could be the sign of mental illnesses or disorders in general: someone who is extremely lustful might be a sex addict or a victim of abuse; anger could be a sign of depression, PTSD, or abuse; gluttony could be the result of physical disorders, addictive personalities, or response to abuse, etc. Still, many of Levitt’s reactions did not seem like someone who liked to avoid work, but more someone shut down by depression, or extremely low self esteem sometimes bordering on self-loathing.
I have been around plenty of people who avoid hard work or tackling difficult issues, but most of them either seemed much more calculating in their self-interest or focused on receiving some kind of self-pleasure through the easiest means possible. I did not see those characteristics in Levitt, but rather a self-destructive, depressed, and ultimately self-loathing individual. (I guess that’s a vice, but that seems far from the work-avoiding, self-centered, self-pleasuring countenance I equate with laziness and sloth.)
“Nor did he really care. He’d quit worrying about what cute guys thought about him long ago.” – I guess not caring what others think is a sign of self-centered laziness, but the total disregard of one’s own pleasure or attractiveness seems more like depression or self-sabotage (or low self-confidence) than slothful.
Levitt fell asleep in a program where his ex-lover wakes him up and then berates him, saying “nothing ever changes.” This seemed much more like a physical or mental illness than lazy, slothful behavior.
“LEVITT’S EXHAUSTION was so great, and so genuine, that he asked Ms. Apel to cover for him at the evening program.” Again, this type of “great and genuine” physical exhaustion seems more like a physical problem or extreme depression rather than laziness.
After a rather devastating heart to heart with his ex-lover, he falls asleep in the office until 11 the next morning. Again, would a slothful person just sleep where he’s at after such a devastating blow? Too lazy to move after having one’s emotions ripped out?
“He walked and he walked. No thoughts. No feelings. No hunger. No hurt. Just exhaustion. Levitt was tired. So very, very tired. Yet still he walked. Until he didn’t.”
“He sighed, content. Levitt began to feel warm. He’d found his couch after all.”
What I got out of the ending is Levitt’s mental state was so screwed up, he walked into a blizzard, laid in the snow, and basically enjoyed the “warmth” of the snow carrying him off to suicidal oblivion.
This certainly wasn’t a story I enjoyed, but the examples were so extreme as to not make sense to me except in the terms of extreme depression and/or mental illness. Most of the time, Levitt did not seem to be consciously practicing a vice, but was so wrapped up in his drained condition that any capacity of self-love or even self-preservation just led to totally unconscious and oblivious self-destruction. I guess that is one way to interpret the consequence of extreme “sloth,” it just did not resonate as that vice to me.
Excerpt From: 7&7 – A DSP Publications Anthology of Virtue and Vice. Dreamspinner Press, 2016.