“Mr. Goober’s Show” by Howard Waldrop: A Digital Domains Review

Copyright © 2010 by Ellen Datlow. Cover design by Stephen H. Segal.

“Mr. Goober’s Show” is a short story by Nebula Award-winning author Howard Waldrop that was published by OMNI Online in March 1998.

Good to get that out of the way.  Now, onto the review!

The Story: A Fantastic Childhood Discovery

An old man called Eldon recounts a mystical childhood experience that he and his sister Irene shared.  While staying at their Aunt Joanie’s house, they encounter a mechanical television set that only plays one show: Mr. Goober.  Eventually, their aunt gets rid of the television, but their curiosity about learning more about this Mr. Goober is too much, particularly for Irene.  However, as a series of letters to Eldon reveal, Irene’s foray into the world of television as an adult slowly breaks her spirit down, while the discovery of what lies behind Mr. Goober may be too much for her to handle.  So Eldon is forced to carry on the search in her memory, fruitlessly asking people over and over if they ever knew about this one show…

The Cast: A Little Boy And Girl (And You)

Eldon is the narrator for the most part, recounting the experience at his aunt’s house and reading out the letters that Irene sent over the years about her dedicated search.  We get more of his perspective as a child, fascinated by the mechanical TV and the show, but ultimately losing interest.  Irene, on the other hand, is revealed through her letters, making her career in TV and asking everyone about Mr. Goober.  However, she becomes obsessed to the point of despair, and while we’re never told just what terrible truth she uncovers, it’s enough to bring tragedy into the life of her poor brother.

This story is also remarkable for its use of second-person narration at the beginning and the end.  It’s one of those styles that’s difficult to do well in fiction, but Waldrop pulls it off as the frame for his tale, using the “you” to draw the reader into the atmosphere of a familiar bar and the context in which Eldon’s story is told.

Final Verdict: The Past Wasn’t Always Golden, You Know

I had to admit that there wasn’t anything too fantastic about this story, but on its literary merits alone, it’s a bittersweet tale of lost innocence and chasing after a child’s memories.  It also qualifies as a science fiction story in that some of Irene’s letters discuss the technology behind mechanical television and how it compares to later TV formats, but again, this does not distract from the overall search for something that was lost and perhaps never was there to begin with.

Bibliography: Waldrop, Howard.  “Mr. Goober’s Show.”  Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy.  Edited by Ellen Datlow.  Prime Books, 2010.

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