Response to “Ainsworth Gym”

by on February 20, 2013

Responses Takes
Illustration by Sally ScopaIllustration by Sally Scopa

Even if we couldn’t name five horror movies, let alone one horror novel, we still know horror when we see it: its tropes are alleys in our cultural city, and in the course of our travels, we pass themwhetherornot we walk down them. We know that a kid drowning in a lake isn’t yet a horror story. But if four kids go swimming in a lake at summer camp, and one drowns mysteriously, and then ten years later to the minute the other three return to the same lake in the dark of night, no one else around, to go swimming one more time and learn once and for all what befell their dead friend—then suddenly we’re in a genre that we know to be vast (Friday the 13th, I Know What You Did Last Summer ad infinitum).

David’s story at first evokes classic summer-camp horror: we easily imagine that our three friends, unsupervised by their horny negligent counselors,will stay up late telling ghost stories, one of which will doubtless turn out to be truer than they’d ever imagined. Yet no sooner have we buttered our popcorn than the divergences begin: David’s story isn’t about summer camp, there’s no gap of time between the horror-tragedy and the dramatic present (in fact there may not even be a horror-tragedy), and there’s no lake for anyone to drown in. Instead, “Ainsworth Gym” gives us a weekend elementary school sleepover, a swimming pool, and a pile of VHS cassettes.

The three friends who narrate “Ainsworth” are seven years old, an age when the short term is meted out in units of weekends—“we’ll have another weekend night after tonight”—and the biggest foreseeable future event is the graduation from PG-13 to R. They’re at the perfect age, in other words, to be takenin by a PG-13 horror movie called Lake Boy, and their decision to recreate the plot of the film makes perfect sense: the heroes of Lake Boy were seven years old when their friend drowned.

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