This is one of those stories that I’m going to end up thinking about for a long time. You know, there are just some stories out there that effortlessly hit home runs, all cylinders are firing, and it completely works. These stories haunt my own writing and make me question the effort that I put forth.
“No Oil Painting” is at its base a ghost story, a haunted hotel story. A family, a father, mother, and son, are traveling and end up at a particular hotel (I don’t think that it was named, now that I’m writing this), and the son ends up in a room with a picture of a scared girl above the mantel.
Okay, to understand the significance of the scared girl, you need to know why this family is on vacation. It seems that the father, a psychologist, has encouraged his, now 40 year old wife to undergo a facelift. In his wisdom, he knew that she would looks beaten up after the reconstruction. So, they all went on a vacation so that no one would have to see her black and blue face while she healed.
The narrator, the son, is at that age where he is wondering if he is attractive. This question seems to stem from his fathers obsession with how the mother looks. He doesn’t understand why his mother needed the surgery. He admits she does look happier now, which he confuses with younger.
The son likes to take pictures. He then likes to doctor them, add color, reformat the size, and even apply an oil paining option that antiques the pictures. The first night he says in the room with the girl’s photo, a ghost appears. The ghost is the girl in the photo. She wants to know who she really is, she wants to be shown. She asks it over and over. The son takes the ghosts picture and begin to doctor it, make it looks like the oil paintings that fill the set of the house. He buys a frame the next day. He believes that by removing her scar and turning her photo into an oil painting that he can show her who she is.
What I really love about Fry’s story is that it tackles vanity through the eyes of the son and through his experience with an angry spirit. By the end of the story, the reader knows what is up, but unfortunately the son is just beginning to learn. You just got to feel for the kid. He wants to be attractive. He wants to be told he good looking. He wants the approval of his father. Unfortunately, it seems that good looks and approval are one in the same in this family. I just hope that the son does not join the ghost, but it might already be too late.
Fry, Gary. “No Oil Painting.” PS Showcase #1: Sanity and Other. Hornsen, Great Britain: PS Publishing, 2007. p 47 - 67