“‘Newborn, they’ve got these huge peckers,’ said Mr. Fenton. ‘I mean, really developed.’”
When it comes to writing about Mavis Gallant’s short stories, I often want to begin with their first sentences. Sometimes there is such a swell of emotion at the story’s end, a marvelling at how entire lifetimes of more than one character have been compressed into just a few pages. So I’m compelled to revisit the first sentence, as if to say “Look, this is where it all started.”
But with “The Fenton Child”, I’m compelled to begin with Mr. Fenton’s observation.
Partly because if you’ve been following along with these posts, you probably didn’t get the impression that Gallant’s stories contain observations like this.
That’s true enough: they rarely do. But one of Gallant’s strengths is her insistence that characters emerge on their own terms, and we readers are to make of them what we will.
It’s up to the reader to size things up. Rather like Mr. Fenton does in this scene.
Mr Fenton’s a key player, because the story is about the Fenton family and the young woman who has been asked to accompany the eponymous infant to the Fenton family home. Her father has arranged for Nora to attend the baby from the time he’s handed over to go home with the family, and then she’s to help out for, maybe, a couple of weeks. (As he reminds her, at the first sign of resistance, she has nothing else to do.)