Mavis Gallant’s “The Prodigal Parent” (1969)

Like the sand dollar that Rhoda’s father slips into his pocket, this is a gritty story. Her sister Joanne repatriated their father, with an air passage to back the claim, and now he has come to live with Joanne.

“Then waja come here for?”
“Because Regan sent me on to Goneril, I suppose.”
“That’s a lie. Don’t try to make yourself big. Nothing’s ever happened to you.”

Rhoda lives close to the beach, on the ocean side of Vancouver Island, and she is trying to make a go of a piece of land with some small cabins she plans to rent.

So she is willing to share her space with strangers, but sharing it with her father is not so simple.

Readers are dropped into the middle of this relationship, with only brief eruptions that hint at past disappointments and conflicts.

Vancouver, Canada

unsplash-logoFerdinand Stöhr

The father is not an alcoholic (on this they agree, and, yet, this is a topic of conversation, and later he observes that she likes drinking cheap Ontario wine).

Rhoda is seeing an Irish man who has four children and no money and he is white, entirely white. Somehow the emphasis here matters, although this might be less significant than the father’s open judgement that she should set aside that relationship.

“She had given a serious answer to what she thought was a serious question. Our conversations were always like this – collisions.”

So the tension holds meaning. But it’s even more significant that the father is commenting on his daughter’s connection to a family man as though he has a position in her life which affords him the role of advisor. As though his understanding of being a family man and his understanding of his daughter is solid enough upon which to base personal advice.

His open criticism of the man (“Playing house, a Peter-and-Wendy game. a life he would never dare try at home.) and his sense that Rhoda would be better off single: it’s a bit nervy, to say the least.

And he, too, is aware of this position, of the tentative nature of his role here.

“What I needed now was someone who knew nothing about me and would never measure me against a promise or a past. I blamed myself, not for anything I had said but for having remembered too late what Rhoda was like.”

But he cannot see past the idea that Rhoda is nine years old, more heavily influenced by her mother, with whom she lives, and indeed, now a grown woman, who might not be interested in playing “Peter-and-Wendy” with anyone but, were she to choose someone, that she is unlikely to choose a parent who has been largely absent from her life.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the eighth story in The End of the World. 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, next week: “New Year’s Eve”. 

The Other Paris (TOP) / The Picnic (TOP) / About Geneva (TOP) / Acceptance of Their Ways (MHiB) / My Heart is Broken (MHiB) / An Unmarried Man’s Summer (MHiB) / The End of the World / The Accident / Malcolm and Bea (TCoL) / The Prodigal Parent / The Wedding Ring (TCoL) / New Year’s Eve AUGUST 28, 2018 / In the Tunnel SEPTEMBER 4, 2018

2018-08-27T09:11:40+00:00

4 Comments

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings August 27, 2018 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Every time I read one of your Gallant posts I think I that I really must read her. Luckily, I just stumbled across a book by her which I thought I’d donated but hadn’t…. 😀

    • Buried In Print August 27, 2018 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      Oh, I’m so glad you didn’t: if you ever decide to “donate” that one (doesn’t that make it sound dirty?), I would be pleased to offer it a good home (and find something to trade with you): it’s a hard one to find over here. The next collection is, finally, getting into her better known stories.

      • kaggsysbookishramblings August 28, 2018 at 2:06 pm - Reply

        Ooooh, I’ve just found another one! So I have “A Fairly Good Time” and “Paris Notebooks”. How exciting! If I ever decide to part with them I will most certainly let you know! 🙂

        • Buried In Print August 29, 2018 at 11:17 am - Reply

          Paris Notebooks is likely an excellent fit for you: maybe you will stumble on a NYRB copy of Paris Stories to go with it! Those tricksy books hiding in corners.

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