If Forain was reading this story, the one which follows the story about him, in Mavis Gallant’s ninth collection, he would be so disappointed to hear that M. Wroblewski can’t find a thing to read in Paris. “There are no books worth reading—nothing but pornography and translated Western trash.”
In his ninth decade, having lived in France for more than forty years, M. Wroblewski sees no hope in the news from Warsaw from his correspondents, those few who remain (“dispirited” and “mistrustful”). They say that everything costs too much and young people are rude and ignorant and language is breaking down and crime rates are rising.
“Unfortunately, most of M. Wroblewski’s Paris acquaintances have vanished or moved away to remote towns and suburbs (everything seems far) or retired to a region of the mind that must be like a twisted, hollow shell.”
But M. Wroblewski looks for the “chinks of light”. There is a lot of brutality and cynicism in the world today, but he looks beyond that.
He would not be able to join the supper club I suggested for Dr. Dominic Missierna (“Kingdom Come”) and Charles Filandreux (“Siegfried’s Memoirs”) and Henri Grippes (“A Painful Affair”). Because Marie-Louise comes from social services for only an hour or two in the mornings to care for Magda.
Perhaps a bookclub? Occasionally, Marie-Louise can stay until noon, and M. Wroblewski can go up to Montparnasse and read the newspapers. Perhaps they could choose their first selection from Blaise Forain’s catalogue.
Because even though I’ve only known him for a few pages, I hope that the Wroblewskis will be able to find those “chinks of light” more readily in the days to come.
Not that Magda is unhappy. She’s troubled by the neighbour who plays Schubert late at night and in the mornings she “refuses to understand the first thing about buttons, zippers, a comb, a toothbrush”, and she heads off into the city when unattended, travelling to a places she used to frequent (or, aiming to, anyhow). But she’s not unhappy.
It’s a lot for Maciej (Matthias, Magda calls him the diminuative, Maciek) though. He has to carry her timeline and his own, as well as theirs. When he finds a letter that she has written, everything “is true, if you imagine that today is unwinding some forty-five years ago”.
The story is bookended by Magda’s letter and Maciek’s letter. In his, he describes himself as “boringly optimistic” and readers see the events of his life told in a slant. He is telling the truth, too. The truth as viewed through one of those “chinks of light”.
The enduring presence of fascism and white supremacy, the frustration of an interrupted sleep and poor health, the walls closing in, a fear that one will not be able to locate a caregiver for a surviving pet, that funeral costs will remain uncovered: there are so many things for M. Wroblewski to worry about.
And M. Wroblewski’s worries are our worries. If not today’s, then tomorrow’s.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the ninth story in Across the Bridge. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next story: “Mlle Dias de Corta”.