Friend of My Youth
Vintage Contemporaries, 1990
#s in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series #34-43
Friend of My Youth
This is a nested narrative wherein the narrator has recurring dreams that her mother, afflicted by some kind of neurological disease at the end of her life, returns to the narrator fully formed and healthy. "I would say [to her dream mother] that I was sorry that I hadn't been to see her in such a long time--meaning not that I felt guilty but that I was sorry I had kept a bugbear in my mind, instead of this reality--and the strangest, kindest thing of all to me was her matter-of-fact reply. Oh well, she said, better late than never. I was sure I'd see you someday." The bulk of the story is another story, a memory of the mother right before she was married, when she taught school and boarded with a family who practiced an extreme form of Prebyterianism. Two sisters (one married, the other not) live in an unadorned, unimproved house, divided into two parts, one for the married couple and the other for Flora, the single woman and the teacher. Flora was engaged to Robert, but he impregnated the other sister and was forced to marry her. The narrator recalls all that her mother had told about this situation, then imagines how she would write the novel of the story, and in this imagining, she rehearses her own conflicted feelings about her own mother. It's a complex psychological study, worthy of another read.
Brenda is married to the older, disabled Cornelius. He was crushed in a mine accident. Brenda is having an affair with Neil, three years younger, but who has some traits that resemble Cornelius's. The core of the story belongs to Brenda, but there is also a backstory that belongs to Neil. He tells Brenda about a girl who ran the coffee shop in Victoria, BC. Neil was part of the hippies that were emerging at the time; they would do drugs and hang around the shop. The girl who ran the shop was fat and unattractive; for some reason, she paid the boys to have sex with her and eventually, the boys ganged up on her and extorted her for money, which ended up ruining the family financially. Neil denies being part of the ordeal, but eventually admits that he received forty dollars.
Rumination on the nature of dreaming as it relates to the "other" state of infidelity:
In dreams you can have the feeling that you've had this dream before, that you have this dream over and over again, and you know that it's really nothing that simple. You know that there's a whole underground system that you can call 'dreams,' having nothing better to call them, and that this system is not like roads or tunnels but more like a live body network, all coiling and stretching, unpredictable but finally familiar--where you are now, where you've always been.This story is complex in its sexuality, its ruminations on the nature of men, and of working. Brenda yearns to bask in the masculinity, wants somehow to surrender to it: "She loves the sight of Neil's bed--badly made...not a marriage bed or a bed of illness, comfort, complication. The bed of his lust and sleep, equally strenuous and oblivious. She loves the life of his body. so sure if its rights. She wants commands from him...to be his territory." Brenda's real marital life is about care taking now, and will be forever more. But she claims for herself the other relationship, even as it deepens and causes greater pain. In the end, they fight, a study in the psychology of communication, where each person willfully misunderstands the other to gain power.
The narrator of this story recounts the life of a poet, a woman, orphaned and alone in a frontier town. The way the town newspaper (and by extension how the people of the town judge each other as people in small towns are wont to do) is key component. And by the end, it seems as though Almeda's life is conjecture of the narrator, a way to honor and give tribute to an artist who no one cared enough about to truly know as a person.
Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass
Hazel is visiting Scotland. She's retired, a widow. She goes to an inn where her husband once stayed when he was in the war, where he had a brief affair with a young girl named Antoinette, who is now aged and the owner of the same inn. Hazel wants to engage with these relics of Jack's past, but no one can (or will admit to) remembering him. It's a complex story with a ballad inserted that mirrors a situation of illegitimacy for a girl who lives with Jack's distant aunt and a man who eats daily at the inn.
Oranges and Apples
Story of a long marriage. A department store heir marries one of the clerks, a woman who has few ambitions other than to live and read and be part of the family. But a Polish man comes to town and some kind of relationship develops between the wife, Barbara, and the newcomer. The husband catches wind of it on an afternoon "that changed his life."
Pictures of the Ice
Goodness and Mercy
A mother and daughter (the mother is dying) take a cruise.
Oh, What Avails
A sister and brother, their lives together and apart. "Dead-Eyed Dick."
Cuckolding and punishing revenge amongst three couples in B.C.