The novelist who barely disguises the characters he has pulled from reality: here, again, it seems as though we catch a glimpse of another Poche.

Now I wonder if Grippes wasn’t forced to camouflage him, after the moment in which Poche queried Grippes about when “What’s-His-Name struggles to prepare his civil-service tests”.

Grippes played innocent: “He had no idea what that could be from, and he was certain he had not written it.” He is pleased that Poche has studied his work. (And regretful when, afterwards, his fiscal relationship with office-Poche ends.)

But it was Poche, all-over-Poche-ness.

Poche knew it. We knew it. Grippes only pretended not to know.

So, afterwards, Grippes made Poche “a tubercular poet, trapped in Paris by poverty and the Occupation”.

Poche-on-the-page is perhaps less immediately recognizable.

But not much of a stretch for Grippes, a writer, to step into the mind of a poet.

Although he had some more adventurous ideas for Poche too. We learn that he threw out a first draft, “in which Poche joined a Christian-minded Resistance network and performed a few simple miracles”.

Is that what we are peering at in “A Recollection”? One of those revised “simple miracles”? With Magdalena’s religiosity front and centre (inspired by the other character whose presence marks the end of “Grippes and Poche”)?

Certainly the narrator here in “Rue de Lille” is a poet (one of the other characters suffers some ill-health too – was it Juliette’s father, maybe?) and living in Paris.

It seems like he could be another version of Poche, perhaps more declarative (fewer parenthetical insertions, like those which characterized the previous short story). Perhaps a third draft.

But still bookish, still married (which, of course, Poche-in-the-office was as well – Grippes noted the appearance of a ring).

“I would see myself as Juliette saw me, crouched over a slanting, shaking stack of volumes piled on a strange floor, cursing and swearing as I tried to pry out a dictionary,” our narrator says.

Is that how we are meant to see him, too, in the midst of a slanting shaking pile of words? Grippes’ words? Or Poche’s?

Overhead in a Balloon‘s stories: Speck’s Idea / Overhead in a Balloon / Luc and His Father / A Painful Affair / Larry / A Flying Start / Grippes and Poche / A Recollection / Rue de Lille / The Colonel’s Child / Lena / The Assembly

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 Overhead in a Balloon. 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: “The Colonel’s Child”.