Sweet and Low is a short story written by Nick White. The story revolves around the life of a young boy Forney, who, having recently lost his father, is coming to terms with a life with his mother – a mother he doesn’t especially feel close to.
With the feeling of love comes the dread. When you love someone, you give them the power to destroy you with something as little as a look. Or a song.
This is an excerpt from a short story by Nick White, an American author noted for his debut novel How to Survive a Summer. The story Sweet and Low is one of the stories in his short story collection of the same name.
Sweet and Low: Summary and Plot Analysis
The story opens with Felicia (Forney’s mother) cleaning the house meticulously, something that was not very characteristically her, having announced to her son that she was expecting someone for dinner that day.
Forney, who hasn’t still come to terms with the fact that his mother is seeing other men, feels disgusted but resolves to make sure he knows who that man is.
The man doesn’t arrive on time and Forney is secretly happy when he tries to console his mother about being stood up.
The man, whose name is Buck, however, pulls up shortly after, apologizing profusely over his tardiness.
Dreading to see another man with his mom, he prepares for the worst but looking at the tiny and frail frame of this man, he is secretly relieved. He is convinced that his mother seems to be in this arrangement strictly for his connections.
Over the course of the evening, Forney comes to know that Buck met his mother at Country Music Palace where her rendition of Sleeping Single in a double bed bewitched him.
Buck is very appreciative of Felicia’s talents which Forney finds very hard to understand – having never experienced them first hand.
Buck continues to regale them for most of the night. Forney comes to know that Buck is a DJ, and hosts a show Buck Wild in the Morning – second most-listened program in the Delta. He confesses to having a soft spot for happy songs.
Buck, a self confessed sweet tooth, asks them for a dessert. Felicia asks Forney to get some for him from the freezer.
Dreading the sight of his mother and Buck using it as their moment of privacy, Forney, to his relief, sees them in the driveway where Buck and his mother were sharing a cigarette.
His mother sees him off and wards off Forney’s question about the nature of the relationship between the two.
Buck’s visit to the family becomes a regular Friday occurrence – and more and more focused on Felicia’s talents.
Forney is impressed with Buck’s talent on the piano and even more so, when he listens to his mom singing for the first time. He now realizes what his father and Buck meant when they said they were enchanted by her voice.
Buck and his mom practice, often till late in the night, but Buck never stays the night. They continue to maintain a strict business-like relationship – at least in Forney’s presence.
Buck and his mother start going to small open mic gigs and on those occasions Forney is left to live with his uncle and his aunt.
Although both his uncle and his aunt pretend to not care for information about Felicia, Forney knows that they secretly wish for as much as they can get out of him. He tells them about Buck and how he is teaching her country music.
Buck drives up into the front yard one afternoon and announces to Forney that the opportunity for his mom had now come. They would be going on a trip to Memphis and this time his mother is going to take him along with them.
In preparation for the trip, both his mother and Forney shop for something classic that suits the occasion. His mother is in a very jolly mood and kisses Forney on the forehead.
This, in Forney’s words, is an atomic bomb for his senses.
Buck drives them to Memphis in his crown vic, entertains a few questions from Forney on his way there before they arrive at the Little Tina. Felicia, nervous about her upcoming performance, touches the statue of W.C Candy for luck.
The three of them get in a booth at the back, where Forney and Buck order sweet tea and Felicia goes straight for her gin and tonic. They see a performer playing quite well, only to be booed.
Felicia performs shortly after and the crowd does not even notice her presence. This breaks Forney’s heart who wanted her mother’s performance to be immensely successful. He breaks into sobs.
Buck’s friend Bishop visits shortly after, missing Felicia’s performance. Felicia and Bishop get drunk and perform again, with her mother slurring through most of the song.
Forney is disturbed by this drunkenness, and Bishop’s behavior towards his mother.
In a fit of rage, he splashes his tea on Bishop’s face. He is about to retaliate but he’s stopped by Buck.
Felicia, in an attempt to repair the damage done by Forney, announces that she will join them later and that they could go on without her.
Buck and Forney both disagree but Felicia insists that she needed to talk to Bishop to smoothen things as she feels that this will help her career.
Buck drives Forney back to stay at a motel where both of them share a cinnamon bun brought by a waitress and Buck tells him where his son was, answering a question that Forney had asked him months ago.
Both of them know that Felicia was not going to return. Forney is sure that she thinks – this is the saddest room in the universe.
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Sweet and Low: Review and My Thoughts
I find the evolution of the relationship between the mother and son endearing. Both of them were grappling with the loss of a dearly loved one; it came as a salvation to see Forney progressing from an emotionally distant son to one that breaks into sobs when his mother did not get the applause he so desperately wanted for her.
Her response does not alarm or frustrate Forney. That is their way with each other: distant with an air of suspicion.
He recognizes the feeling inside him and shudders. With the feeling of love comes the dread. When you love someone, you give them the power to destroy you with something as little as a look. Or a Song.
I loved how Nick White took a loving jab at deep South here and there. And on his road trip to Memphis:
Forney has this notion that they will see Memphis glittering in the distance, a good mile or two before they reach it. So far, however, there has been nothing but a vast stretch of nothingness in front of and behind them: a hazy wall of humidity,a diminishing wall of trees. Like they are headed away from civilization, not towards it.
I almost found myself rooting for Buck when he confesses to liking happy love songs:
The kind where it ends the way it should.
Although Nick White didn’t end the story that way, he made the journey worth the while.