In the collection, In Transit, this story’s placement, next to “When We Were Nearly Young” is brilliant. Two experiences of impoverishment: with different settings, life stages, and stakes. But rather than focus on a series of single people, “Better Times” concentrates on a married couple: Susan and Guy.
It’s tempting to dig into this disappointing relationship. (Susan: “I didn’t think being married to you would be like this.” Guy: “Marriage had seemed a small thing then – a sand flea. But Marigold had been right; his life was too dodgy for wives, and it was better without witnesses, alone.”)
But, instead, I’m reminded of Gallant’s skill at succinctly sketching characters. How their thoughts – or their absence of thoughts – or their preoccupations can be so revealing.
Pale-eyed, old war hero, nearly successful salesman – of nearly anything – he thought of the flags and the yachts, and of the present, with its gains and rewards.
Watchfulness made her seem without expression. That look – empty, receptive – and her light, straight hair caused her to be compared to a medieval pageboy or a picture-book Anglo-Saxon girl, uncoarsened by Norman blood.