Passing Each Other in Halls, by Matt de la Peña
Location: Rose O’Neill Literary House
I guess I picked up “Passing Each Other in Halls” because I was hoping for some sort of self-discovery with it, you know, something artsy and grand that would tie into my oh-so-tragic-college-student existence. Yeah, it’s silly, but I figured that the title indicated a greater prevalence to me than, let’s say, “The Bearded Girl,” or “The Freshwater Mermaid.” It was a stupid bias but hey, I was playing the “tortured soul” bit that day and I felt like reading something poetic, and you have to admit that that title is poetic. So, being a snob, I picked that one and, if you should read the story, you’ll realize the painful irony in that decision.
You really should read the other stories, though, not to detract from my point. Even if you’re not bearded girls or freshwater mermaids, you’ll find prevalence in them. Really.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading Matt de la Peña’s story, having never read any of his work before. I probably pictured something dramatic and melancholy, considering the mood I was in, something I could swig a bit of wine to and say, “Ah, yes, yes, of course” (I really apologize for that mood). The cover was relatively unassuming; being composed almost entirely of the title itself, save for a few palm trees, I wasn’t getting any hints at what lay beyond. And having been a bit of a classics snob growing up, I did not know what to expect from Mr. de la Peña: perhaps he would be a modern day Victorian; perhaps he would take beauty from a decaying world and give it unto me. Whatever should I picture?
Whatever I had pictured, I did not picture crotches, inebriation, and poverty; smart girls named Holly with unfortunately beautiful legs, and rich and unstable douchebags; shitty girlfriends in Ivy leagues…nor did I expect that I could enjoy such a combination. It’s not so much a case of “Come on, you know you like it” as it is a case of “Oh. Well, oh.” Now aren’t I a wordsmith?
I really do not like “down to earth” writing. Usually it is an excuse for lazy writing and untalented protagonists, or so I had found: what one person thinks of as real, others know as real. Oh, you know a few curses, do you? You happen to be a skater, too? Oh, look at that, you’re referencing coitus. Now aren’t you talented?
This is in no way how the story reads (really really), but this explains my usual prejudice.
My prejudice stems from a disappointment in the human condition, I suppose you could say. There is something wrong with us, inherently wrong with us, with how we prioritize. We work away our lives for scraps of paper; we get worked up over a bit of coupling and lose even more sleep than originally cost; we create a world of trouble so that we may have trouble. There is something greater for us, there has to be something greater for us, I know it. And I did get assurance of that, I found myself assured, and I found myself assured by a coitus-referencing skateboarder who liked to curse.
I would say that my words taste somewhat lemony right now.
The events of “Passing Each Other in Halls” make little sense if I simply told them to you, yet make perfect sense when told in story. Of course they’re making out within the first page, that makes sense. Of course the snob offers closure for his dying father, why wouldn’t she? What do you mean you don’t know why he runs back towards the cops? The story doesn’t make sense through my saying of it because the events of it simply happen, they just come about. There is nothing forced about them and there is nothing artificial about them. These events are natural as natural can be. These events are true to life, strange as they might seem. These events, heck, they’re real, man.
~Reilly Cox ‘16
Matt de la Peña is the author of four critically-acclaimed young adult novels: Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here, and I Will Save You. De la Peña currently lives in Brooklyn NY. He teaches creative writing and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country.
To learn more about Matt de la Peña, visit his website here and read his work.