For me, Michael Byer’s “Malaria” is not about any of the characters specifically, but more about how they affect one another. At first the story seems as if its going to focus on the main character, Orlando, and his girlfriend Nora’s relationship, but from the casual almost irrelevant way Byer describes the way they meet and how their relationship progresses it doesn’t seem important. “I talked to her first at a vending machine where we were both buying coffee, and things progressed in the usual slow ways, we went out one cold night to look at the blurry stars, and that led to some kissing, and from there we started the customary excavation of our families” (p 47). Im uninterested in Orlando and Nora’s relationship which I think is what Byer wants. If not, he would have described it in a creative way. Orlando and Nora could have met anywhere, but they meet at a vending machine as they are both buying coffee. There is nothing special about a vending machine, and a lot of people like coffee so no coincidence there. Things progressed in a slow way (which I guess they would if you met at a vending machine). Byer describes the night as cold and the stars as blurry, two of the most typical descriptions he could have possibly thought of. So, from the first paragraph the reader can assume that there has to be more to the story than this relationship.

It is when Nora takes Orlando to meet her parents, the Vardon’s, that George’s character is introduced and the story begins to have some meaning, even if we might not know it yet. After a game of tennis George tells Orlando that he has malaria. Orlando keeps it to himself until later in the story when George becomes mentally ill. It is George that makes the story, even though the story is not about George. Without George there would be no point to Orlando and Nora’s relationship. Orlando finds ambition in his life through the uselessness of George’s life. Later in his life when Orlando is sick one day he seems to experience the way George must have felt everyday. “I shivered because I felt, as I had never felt in my life, alone in the world- not only alone but as though I were the only human left around.” (p 57) Orlando is not George though because after a couple hours he “returned to his senses” and went on with his life.

Byers story involves the lives of Orlando, Nora, and George. As individuals their story has no significant meaning but together in the ways they affect one another they become important. Through George’s mental illness Orlando finds the drive to do something that will define him as a person unlike George who is defined by whats wrong with him. Even the story is defined or titled by whats wrong with George. The story also confronts how mental illness effects all those involved with that persons life. What is different though is the story tells mostly how it affects Orlando, who is the least involved with George’s life. Through the story Byer shows how the events or people in our lives, no matter how inconsequential, all have a slight impact.


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September 15th


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