Another of my favorite stories in this book: “The Greatest Show on Earth, 1982: What There Was.” Stripping out all the circus background leaves a core that I can’t help but compare to “Hills Like White Elephants” if Hemingway wrote race and class issues into the story. In “Hills Like White Elephants,” I think the characters are only victims of their own desire to keep having a good time, to keep drinking new drinks, and making clever but meaningless observations, whereas Buckeye and Black Mike in “The Greatest Show on Earth, 1982: What There Was” have this avalanche of societal pressures, combined with their substance issues, holding them back. Their obstacles seem insurmountable.
The people in Hemingway’s story seem like they’re most interested in maintaining the status quo: having fun. They could easily go the other way; they just don’t want to. In Campbell’s story, the characters would love the luxury of settling down with a baby, and living mundane, healthy lives but they don’t have the resources to change. It’s not even an option for them. They know that, even in a 2-parent family, their child would be worse off than they had been as children of single mothers.
I like the circus car in the last panel, and I didn’t want to excise the circus theme entirely, but I’m afraid it takes too much focus off Buckeye, sitting on the ground, feeling her own pain, and Mike’s too. But that’s what I believe she’s doing.