Big Toes are Worth More
March 13, 2015 10:11 AM   Subscribe

What was this novel/short story/screenplay/dream I read? Seeing Wow, that literally costs an arm and a leg! on the front page reminds me powerfully of a scene in something I read where a father plots his successive and continuing workplace injuries to maximize the insurance payouts, which are used for the benefit of his daughter.

I recall so many details of this you'd think I could search it, but my Google skills were lost in an industrial accident.
  • I feel like this was one scene in a larger work (like a novel).
  • This scene was written as the daughter's recollection of her childhood, being told to another character.
  • The original injury was accidental. The father recovers in hospital and realizes that this is how he can provide for his family. He begins planning his further dismemberment on his own.
  • As the daughter ages, she and her father begin working together to determine in which order to lose which body part so as to maximize the insurance benefit. They have a very accounting/actuarial mindset about this, and keep a notebook full of figures.
  • The narrator mentions at this point that big toes are worth more, giving much the same reasons as leotrotsky did in that thread.
  • I think the mother's role in the story was minimized, she wasn't dead or gone, just not part of the scheme.
  • Eventually the father's employer or insurance company wises up to the scam but they can't prove anything and can't fire him, so he gets shadowed by someone meant to keep him from hurting himself while at work but he manages to keep it up anyway.
  • Some more emphasis is placed on how careful and methodical the father was, losing only what body part he intended to in any given accident, i.e., due to the wording of the insurance policy there was a greater payout if he e.g. lost fingers individually and in a certain order, so that's what he did.
  • The end and emotional punchline of the story is that when the daughter is or is nearly an adult her father dies in another industrial accident, and she isn't sure whether he finally slipped up and lost more than he intended to, or just couldn't stop himself, or what, but death wasn't the next step in the plan.
posted by books for weapons to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have an answer, but just in case nobody else does either, this sounds super-familiar to me, and I have a vague feeling that it might be in something by Knut Hamsun. (Or, totally unhelpfully, someone who reminds me of Knut Hamsun in some way. Sometimes I make stupid connections between things that don't make any external sense.)

Just in case that rings any bells.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:23 PM on March 13, 2015

I strongly suspect you're looking for Max Barry's book Machine Man, which features the elements you describe as part of a subplot.
posted by mikurski at 1:49 PM on March 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Was it a Damon Runyon story? It's the sort of strange thing he might have included in one of his short stories.
posted by fiercekitten at 2:08 PM on March 13, 2015

mikurski, you've got it. I took Machine Man down off my shelf to check and managed to open directly to the page this vignette begins on. Thanks!
posted by books for weapons at 4:46 PM on March 13, 2015

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