Stories We’re Thankful For: “Pilgrims”
By Celeste Ng
I’m thankful for many things this Thansksgiving–friends, family, bits of good fortune large and small that have come my way over the past year. But in terms of stories, there’s one I’m eternally grateful for: Julie Orringer’s “Pilgrims.”
I first encountered “Pilgrims” in The Best New American Voices 2001, where it was the lead-off story. It begins simply enough: a family–father, mother, sister, brother–are headed to Thanksgiving dinner. But within paragraphs, you feel less and less at ease. The mother is gravely ill, as are many of the parents at the group dinner. Brother and sister must contend with a pack of motherless, lawless children roaming the huge treehouse in the backyard. The story’s conclusion is so shocking that the first time I read it, I literally had to sit down. Once you read this story, certain images will stay with you forever: paper pilgrim-buckles taped to sock feet. A glass of red water. A tiny tooth clutched in a palm.
In some ways every story I’ve written since has been influenced by “Pilgrims.” It prodded me to delve deeper and darker in my own writing, to follow characters into terrifying places, to allow terrible things to happen–even to characters I loved, even to children–if that’s where the story led. It gave me permission–no, it dared me–to see how far I could take a story. Thank you, Julie Orringer.
- Read the first few pages of “Pilgrims” online, and find the complete story in Julie Oringer’s collection How to Breathe Underwater
- Erika Dreifus reviews Orringer’s novel The Invisible Bridge
- More “stories we love”