Some of the stories NOT told in Mavis Gallant’s Dédé, a story named for Sylvie’s younger brother, Amedée:
We don’t catch even a glimpse of the time in which “the future Mme Brouet was studying to be an analyst of handwriting, with employment to follow – so she [Sylvie] had been promised – in the personnel section of a large department store”.
We can only guess as to whether Sylvie’s pursuit had anything to do with Dédé’s ability to “sign his mother’s name to a check”, which he apparently did only once (or, at least, he was caught doing so on only one occasion) and who knows why.
We know very little about the “poet Paul Eluard’s future wife, from Alsace but out in Paris on a rainy evening, “starving, and in a desperate, muddled, amateurish way pretending to be a prostitute”.
We haven’t other examples of the instances in which Pascal Brouet “tries to avoid drawing attention to the Responsibility clause in the treaty that governs peace between generations”.
We have to imagine the other version of Dédé’s story, the one in which he does not have “a button of a nose”, “too tall ever to be comfortable”, a remarkable smile, and a “mass of curly fair hair”, the version in which everyone takes him seriously.
We must turn to the history books (or Gallant’s journalism) to understand the burning cars in May 1968, the reasons for all the arguments over dinner and Sunday lunch about an election still five months away. (There’s a wasp attack over melon, more notable than the patches of silence during the meal.)
We see nothing of the daughter of a dinner guest’s trip to Thessalonika, even though Mme Turbin “accompanied her in her mind, minute by minute” and the plane lands during the dinner hour (before the wasps arrived).
We can’t know whether the artist who painted the magistrate’s grandfather’s portrait was able to secure other work, despite the stiff-looking pony and the colours being all wrong.
We’re not given a tour of the “apartment with movable walls” that Dédé invents, with everything “in reach by pulling a few levers or pressing a button”, so you “could spend your life in the middle of a room”.
We must conjure up a future for the Greek tourist who was bitten by a dog, received an emergency shot for rabies, and filed a complaint with Mlle Turbin at the travel agency (although M Turbin does describe the long needle commonly used in such treatments).
We have to wonder why M Chevallier-Crochet’s wife is deathly afraid of needles, so much so that she cries out in the middle of the story about rabies treatments, her eyes “wild”, her husband baffled as to her “singular fear, one that set her apart”.
There are so many possibilities. There’s one character in this story who gets a job calling French citizens to poll them daily on the television programs that they watched the previous evening, and what’s even more interesting is that the second question is what was the program that they didn’t watch but wish they’d been able to watch.
No need to wish that we’ve not read Dédé, but we can’t help but wonder at all the stories nested inside a single Gallant tale. These details are specifically selected, partly to increase the credibility of the characters but many of them also contribute to an underlying sense of anxiety or missed opportunities in life: rather than clutter the story, they enrich it.
Readers looking for plot might find this kind of story frustrating, but this is a dense and rewarding peek at Paris in May 1968.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the fifth 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: “Kingdom Come”.