The Great Frustration
“Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre”
“Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre” appeared in Seth Fried’s debut collection, THE GREAT FRUSTRATION, (Softskull Press, 2011). The story won a Pushcart Prize. Fried’s short stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, One Story, Tin House, Vice, and many others journals. Fried has said the impetus for the story was Bob Dylan’s “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Blues,” a song about a group of people who get on a boat to be taken to a picnic but the promoters have sold too many tickets and the boat sinks.
Fried elaborated on how he took that premise and turned it into his award winning tale: I’ve read lots of stories like “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” in which an absurd or surreal premise is used to examine human behavior. However, where I think my story differs from a lot of other dystopian works (such as Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” or Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”) is that I genuinely empathize with some of the behavior of my characters. I wanted to write something that would express my sense of how confusing the world is and how complicated it can be to do the right thing.
A quick example from my own experience: I’ve always known that it was bad for the environment to throw away electronics. So whenever it was time to get a new computer, I would make sure to have the old one recycled. After doing this several times, I found out that 50 percent of “recycled” computers were going to landfills in China where workers were being exposed to harmful chemicals while they extracted the gold from semiconductors for $2 to $4 a day. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I was actually contributing to a horrific process.
I wrote this story because I wanted to explore my frustration about how sometimes the world seems like it’s too big and too dysfunctional for doing the right thing to be possible. Certainly, the almost inhuman negligence and complacency exhibited by the characters in “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre” is staggering. And yet, their feelings of helplessness may not be so difficult for any of us to comprehend.