You might remember that, back when we met Linnet Muir, four stories ago, she explained her particular kind of aloneness.Cris DiNoto
This story travels back in time further than the previous three and creates a deeper understanding of her state of being.
Even in childhood, Linnet was alone. Even while in the proximity of her mother and father. Even? Perhaps especially then.
We see her with her father (often in the company of her father’s friends too, who consider her precocious but tolerate her presence).
“He was seldom present. I don’t know where my father spent his waking life: just elsewhere.”
We see her with her mother (only occasionally in the company of another woman).
“When she said ‘There, Charlotte, what did I tell you?’ without obtaining an answer, it summed up mother and daughter both.”
But mostly this story careens from scene to scene, from one moment of discomfort to another. And, throughout, there is a constant attention to the dynamic between parent and child, between experience and innocence.
“Observe the drift of words descending from adult to child – the fall of personal questions, observations, unnecessary instructions. Before long the listener seems blanketed.”
Even here, in the first few lines of the story (one of the shorter ones in this cycle, only a dozen pages long), we see the language of snow.
Words drift. They fall. They blanket. (There is some discussion of this in the 2013 New Yorker podcast in which Margaret Atwood reads this story and discusses it with editor Deborah Treisman.)
And, there is a steady accumulation. Until later in the story, we have this magnificent characterization of a particular kind of blue, as evening falls:
“Lamps were still gas, and their soft gradual blooming at dusk made the sky turn a peacock blue that slowly deepened to marine, then indigo. This uneven light falling in blurred pools gave the snow it touched a quality of phosphorescence, beyond which were night shadows in which no one lurked.”
We are reminded here, again, that Linnet is looking back. We are reminded that her memory might be faulty. We are reminded that we rarely remember details like the quality of light from decades past.
And, we are reminded that the sense of being blanketed, both insulated and smothered, is not a matter of detail.
That is something we do not forget. Especially if we have ever felt as alone as Linnet.
Home Truths Stories: Thank You for the Lovely Tea / Jorinda and Jorindel / Saturday / Up North / Orphans’ Progress / The Prodigal Parent / In the Tunnel / The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street / Bonaventure / Virus X / In Youth is Pleasure / Between Zero and One / Varieties of Exile / Voices Lost in Snow / The Doctor / With a Capital T
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the final story in Home Truths. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next collection: Overhead in a Balloon.