“Santa Claus Goes Hunting in the Off-Season” By Eric Barnes

Blogger: Gretchen Addis

From Hobart Magazine: http://www.hobartpulp.com/web_features/santa-claus-goes-hunting-in-the-off-season

The thing that first attracted me to this story was the title. It’s a premise that you could almost see in some kind of sit-com television show or family comedy movie. As it turned out the story itself could still fit into either of those categories, but not for the reasons I’d expected. It’s the story of two men who combat the mundanely of their lives by sending goofy texts to one another in a battle of comedic wit. The interaction we readers observe is one in which a Santa Claus-lookalike is chatting up the narrator’s neighbor/texting buddy. They banter over text to see who can crack first.

The story makes clever use of character voice to tell you more about the speaker. The narrator of the story is speaking in first person, so we get an intimate view into his mind. Texting, which to us is a fairly pedestrian use of a cellphone, is transformed into a tense, do or die situation through the narrator. This weird and often crude texts to his friend are the most exciting thing to happen to him in a long time. He sneaks and skulks about during the texting conversation to avoid being spotted, while also trying to spot his friend fumbling over the text he just received.

Knowing this, it might seem slightly inappropriate to call this piece “Santa Claus Goes Hunting in the Off-Season”, but when you consider it there’s not a more appropriate title to use. The reaction a reader has to a fairly mundane story with a very odd title would be the same that any observer would have if they saw these two grown men behaving the way they do. The absurd exchanges they have seem exciting to them, but deep down they know that what they’re doing is rather absurd and pedestrian.

As far as the structure of the short story goes, I noticed that the font for the text exchanges is different. Instead of the standard Time New Romanesque font, it’s a typewriter one. The text exchanges also lack quotation marks. The font change clearly distinguishes text content from the rest of the paragraphs, and perhaps that’s necessary without the quotation marks. The lack of quotation marks is interesting in its own right. It makes some measure of sense; you’re not speaking aloud when you’re sending a text, though we still seem to use quotes to show that with written exchanges. Is there perhaps a better way to convey text-message exchanges, like what is used here?

Another interesting thing about these text-messages is how well-written they are. What I mean by that is they’re grammatically-sound. When you text quickly, or communicate fast over the internet, you have a tendency to stop capitalizing or use shorthand more often. That might be due to the age of the two speakers; adults who are adjusting to text-messages might be less likely to use shorthand or allow grammar errors (though in my experience they tend to be even worse about them). These messages are all very carefully-written. The narrator and his friend obviously spent some time writing them out, pouring over them even. That’s a lot of work to be put into a text message, and clearly these exchanges are important enough to the two men to put that effort in.