The Manchester Review
Steven Millhauser
The Slap
print view

OUR TOWN. Our town is bordered on the south by a sandy public beach that faces the waters of Long Island Sound and on the north by a stretch of pine and oak woods. To the east lies an industrial city, where streets of crumbling brick factories with smashed windows give way to neighborhoods of new ten-story apartment complexes rising above renovated two-family houses with porches on both floors. To the west lies a wealthy town of five-bedroom homes set back on rural lanes, with a private beach, a horse-riding academy with indoor and outdoor practice rings, and a harbor yacht club where powerboats and racing sailboats are moored on floating docks. We like to think of ourselves as in the middle: well off, as things go, with pockets of wealth at the shore and on Sascatuck Hill, but with plenty of modest neighborhoods where people work hard and struggle to make ends meet. In this way of thinking there’s a certain amount of self-deception, of which we’re perfectly aware — it pleases us to think of ourselves as in the middle, even though, as statistics show, we’re well above the national average in per capita income. Although we’re on the commuter line to Manhattan, many of us work right here in town or in small cities not more than half an hour away. For the most part our lawns are neat, our streets well paved, our trees trimmed once a year by men in orange hats who stand in baskets at the ends of high booms. Our school system is one of the best in the county — we believe in education and pay our teachers well. Our Main Street is lively, with cafés and restaurants and a big department store, despite the new mall out by Route 7. Because we’re on the commuter line, we don’t feel shut away from the center of things, as if we were stuck up in Vermont or Maine, though at the same time we’re happy to be out of the city and take pride in our small-town atmosphere of treeshaded streets, yard sales, and the annual fire department dinner. But make no mistake, there’s nothing quaint about us, what with our new semiconductor headquarters and our high-end boutiques, unless it’s our seventeenth-century town green, with a restored eighteenth-century inn where George Washington is supposed to have spent the night. Most of us know we’re lucky to live in a town like this, where crime is low and the salt water is never more than a short drive away. We also understand that to someone from another place, to someone who is disappointed or unhappy, someone for whom life has not worked out in the way it might have, our town may seem to have a certain self-satisfaction, even a smugness. We understand that, for such a person, there may be much to dislike, in a town like ours.