“August” picks up the thread from 1959’s “Travellers Must Be Content” (a story which was also collected in The Cost of Living/Going Ashore).

Just as time has passed between publications, time has passed for Bonnie and her daughter, Flor, too. The stories read like bookends, all-of-a-piece, but occupying different positions.

Ondaatje’s introduction to Paris Stories doesn’t pull from “August”, but it could have.

He observes that “we often miss the technical craft” as Gallant moves quickly “into and out of minds and moods”.

About halfway into “August”, in a single paragraph, readers move all around the experience of Bob’s father coming to stay with Bob and Flor, so that we understand every character’s position on the matter of this marriage.

Even this single sentence about Mr. Harris has so much to say: “The old man saw Flor, her silence, her absence, and believed she had a lover and that her pallor was owing to guilty thoughts.”

Ondaatje also notes Gallant’s preoccupation with that “fraught border between wishful behavior and minimal action” and how “the next sentence can bring a complete shift of tone or content, while a quick aside can include whole lives”.

Both “Travellers Must Be Content” and “August” are preoccupied by the relationships, historical and present-day, of Bonnie and Flor.

This passage in “August” looks back on a time which seems to slightly predate “Travellers”, so that readers have some additional insight on even-younger-Bonnie even while we are spending time with “older-Bonnie” who is looking back on “younger-Bonnie”:

Bonnie remembered other things: she remembered herself, Bonnie, at thirty-seven, her name dragged in the mud, vowing to Flor she would never look at a man again; swearing that Flor could count on her for the rest of her life. She had known in her heart it was a temporary promise and she had said, “I still have five good years.”

There it is, that “complete shift of tone”, her gift for including whole lives in an aside.

The emotional impact of “Travellers” remains consistent with “August”, and in some ways it feels as though the two stories are chronicling a single decades-long summer (which would be impossible, of course), with the former unfolding in a July and the latter in an August.

But events take an unexpected turn and without straining credibility, the end of the story inhabits both a tragic and a hopeful space and time.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the third-from-the-end story in Paris Stories. 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: “In Plain Sight”.