Monday, February 21, 2011

Short Story Spotlight: Examination Day by Henry Slesar

Readers who answered my Dystopian August survey said one of the things they'd like me to do is to spotlight books I've read in the past but not reviewed.

Have you read Examination Day already?  It's very short, so if you haven't, read it now and then come back for a discussion!

What I like best about Examination Day is the ending, which comes as a total shock.  See, sure, we are all a little apprehensive about taking tests, and surprise tests are probably the least fun, but no reader expects the test to be as serious as it turns out to be.

Mr and Mrs Jordan don't even mention the test to their son Dickie until the day he turns 12.  Turns out that all kids have to take some sort of intelligence test, and though the Jordans seem nervous about it, they are not terrified or anything.

We see a little about what sets Dickie apart from his parents.  He is inquistive about the world around him and sensitive to others' feelings.  His father is annoyed when Dickie asks questions and doesn't even look at him when he drops him off at his test, let alone give him a hug or affection.

And then comes the PHONE CALL! Not only is the content shocking, the business-like, bored tone of the government official tells us that such phone calls are par for the course in this decidedly dystopian society.

What are your thoughts?


Sam @ Parenthetical said...

It occurs to me that I've read a lot of novels in which Dickie would be secretly taken away to be trained as a Government leader instead, because he proved his worth by being smarter than average (or trying to escape even when told it was impossible, or whatever). Do you know when this story was written? I'm guessing 1960s.

(Stopped being lazy and checked -- 1958.)

Zibilee said...

I am going to have to go over and read this one. Your questions and reactions to it are making me very curious!

Simply_Megan said...

This one was weird! I agree with Sam - you'd think some of the smart children would be used for something because you can't have all stupid people around. Maybe there's a quota of smart people and Dickie was one too many?

Lenore Appelhans said...

I always imagined it was because the government didn't want anyone smart enough to overthrow it - which is why they eliminate at 12 already.

Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. This sounds like a fascinating book. I used to love dystopian stories, and have written some myself, but because I live in the US, they're too close to reality for me to find them entertaining. As democracy bursts out in the middle east, the US is being turned into a third-world banana republic by religious fanatics and heavily armed morons--all of whom I'm sure would like to exterminate anybody with an IQ over 75.

Ladytink_534 said...

Of course I have to go read it now because of the way you hinted about it!

Whoa! Why? Huh?

Danny Pettry said...

I'm not sure why I enjoy reading dystopia books and stories.

I was shocked at the end. When I should have realized something like this was coming.

I agree with the above post by Sam -- that maybe the boy was taken away for something else (not death). I didn't think that until I read Sam's post.

I especially liked when his father said, "go read your comics," like that is something not-so-smart kids do. (laugh aloud). I'd argue that reading comics makes a person smart (at least in certain areas), which I'm too lazy to think of or list here right now. Well -- I'll stop being lazy. The Watchmen (another dysptia) requires the reader to have an understanding of power and supervision.

Thanks for sharing these short-stories at your blog. I appreciate it a lot. I've not heard or read these stories until now.

Aaron Vincent said...

The phone call really caught me off guard back when I first read this short story. I expected that there's something bad going to happen but I didn't expected that it would be like that. It's just disturbing and yes, heartbreaking. Have you seen the tv adaptation of it from the Twilight Zone? If not, here's a link:

Angelique said...

Love these short stories links you're posting!
I agree with you, I think the government wouldn't want anyone too intelligent in society because it would be easier for them to maintain control over a population who didn't question their power because they're not intelligent enough to do so.
So interesting to think of what this society would be like! Would there be schools? Books? Families would hope their children wouldn't be too smart instead of valuing intelligence.
Great post, thanks so much for sharing it!

lulilut said...

I'm enjoying the links. I haven't read this story and also a thank you to Aaron Vincent for the YouTube link.

Have you read Harlan Ellison's short story, "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream"?
I googled and found a copy here:
or "The Star" by Arthur C. Clarke