Book #10: The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, by William Inge

Since I’ve now completed 25% of my reading goal for 2015 and it’s not even the end of January, I’m starting to think I should have aimed a little higher.

In my last days of winter break, I couldn’t quite decide what reading I wanted to be occupied with, so I turned to an anthology of William Inge plays, figuring at least they’d go quickly. I read one of Inge’s most popular works, Picnic, for a class last spring and really enjoyed it, so I figured I’d give the other plays of his that I own a go.

Much like Picnic, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs deals with Midwestern life, though this play takes place in the 1920s in Oklahoma. We’re dropped into the lives of the Flood family whose patriarch is a traveling salesman and a bit of a rowdy cowboy, unlike the rest of his family. Rubin’s absence is difficult for his wife, Cora, who can’t decide if she really wants to be with her husband and wishes for a grander lifestyle.

What I really liked about this play (and about Picnic) was that it feels like a glimpse into typical middle class American life. There are serious subjects involved (like suicide, rape, domestic abuse, and sexuality), but Inge doesn’t take a heavy-handed approach. His plays read like real life.

In a way, Inge’s work makes me think of the movie Boyhood, which has become the frontrunner to win Best Picture at the Oscars this year. Neither shies away from difficult subjects, but they don’t affect families in a necessarily life-changing way. They offer audiences a glimpse at reality, even if reality isn’t always so pretty.


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