[For the previous countdown post, click here.]
4. “The Big Man” (2000; expanded 2010)
Partridge’s fondness for Atomic Age genre films is writ large here, as bomb testing in the Southwestern desert produces an array of giant, radiated monsters: spiders, scorpions, bats, and one forty-foot-tall man. The giant of the title sports “teeth like polished marble tombstones” and drinks beer from kegs using “a car bumper for a can opener”; when injured, he leaves “huge red blood droplets that had dried like Navajo sand-paintings on the red earth.” This playing with scale, though, isn’t in the interest of echoing the fantastic satire of Swift or Rabelais, or even the suspenseful thrills of 50’s drive-in fare. The narrative, which reads like a dark, (Tim) Burtonesque fairy tale, is concerned most with its viewpoint character: a young boy physically and verbally abused by his foster father, Mr. Harstead (whose bar room the boy sweeps up, and sleeps on its pool table at night). When Harstead attempts to capitalize on his grenade attack (by tracking down the grievously wounded behemoth and procuring a skull trophy), the boy ardently hopes that the giant will triumph over the wicked pseudo-parent. But in this tale, wishes don’t come facilely true (at least not quite like imagined), and actions prove more powerful than words. “The Big Man” has an oversized heart, and its emotional story beats make this Partridge’s most moving work of short fiction.