In lieu of that, she channels her inner-Mrs-Bennett and seeks to marry one of her daughters instead. She asks the assistance of an uncle, who aside his work on a memoir he is writing for Berthe and Marie.
The first sentence of Uncle Gildas’ memoir is already complete: “I was born in Montréal, on the 22nd of May, 1869, of pious Christian parents, connected to Montreal families for whom streets and bridges have been named.”
In just this sentence – and the uncle’s, not even a sentence via one of the central Carettes – readers have a glimpse of the sense of how we are to direct our gaze towards the fringes. These are characters who inhabit the margins; they live near the beautiful parks and churches, but do not enjoy a pristine view of these surroundings in their glory, only off to one side or enjoyed on a delay, after things have been worn and become a little less glorious.
But we also have a glimpse of Mavis Gallant’s wit (for the Carettes are not a humourous bunch), which simmers beneath the surface of this story and erupts like bubbles on a hard boil in a pot on the stove. The humour is rooted in the everyday and is slightly caustic and buoys this story brilliantly. (I love the idea that the aging priest is working on his memoir but has only written a single sentence.)
There is so much that I want to tell you about the Carettes, now in 1949, and how things turn out with this potential suitor. Because would you believe, but he wears glasses! “How can we be sure he’s the right man?” Mme Carette wonders, imagining her near-sighted grandchildren. And he has a “fringe of ginger hair below his hat”. (All this on first glance, challenging Uncle Gildas’ declaration that the young man was “of distinguished appearance”.)