Buried in Print's Mavis Gallant Reading Schedule
Mavis Gallant on The Reading Life
I have been reading short stories by Mavis Gallant (born Montreal 1922, died Paris, 2014) since 2013. I was delighted when a blogger I have happily followed for years, Buried in Print, announced they would be reading and posting on her many short stories (116 published in The New Yorker alone) on a weekly basis. I have on my E Reader The Collected Short Short Stories of Mavis Gallant (contains per Gallant about half of her stories) so I decided to try to read along with Buried in Print's weekly schedule as much as I might.
This week's story, "Señor Pinedo" is set in a boarding house, a pension in Madrid, sometime after the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939- often portrayed as a war between democrats seeking a free Spain, think Hemingway and such versus Spanish Fascists promising great things for the common man if they will follow the leadership of Francisco Franco now seen as Fascist element of the Falange Party, remember Picasso's Guernica). The story did bring to my mind the works in Katherine Mansfield's first collection, In a German Pension.
The boarding house used to be a big middle class home, but as the narrator tells us, economic hard times caused the owners of many such home to turn their houses into boarding homes. The owner and her brother live there now, in two rooms. The rest of the building has been subdivided into a number of small rooms. Our narrator, is an English speaking woman, we don't learn where she is from or why she is in Madrid. She lives right next to the Pineda family, the 23 year old wife, her civil service employed husband and their baby. The walls are so thin the Pineda's alarm wakes them up. She can hear the Pinedas talking about money. In addition to tourists, there are other permanent tenants. They include a bullfight promoter, seen as a bit of a vulgarian, a man who used to be a literature professor but now works in a drug store (he lost his job because he was neutral in the Civil War, and others. I laughed so much when I read the narrator's description of an English woman living in the pension, the description was just so perfect
"There was also the inevitable Englishwoman, one of the queer Mad Megs who seem to have been born and bred for pension life. This one, on hearing me speak English in the dining room, looked at me with undisguised loathing, picked up knife, fork, plate, and wineglass, and removed herself to the far corner of the room; the maid followed with the Englishwoman’s own private assortment of mineral water, digestive pills, Keen’s mustard, and English chop sauce."
Señor Pinedo is very proud of the accomplishments of the government. He brings home brochures from work describing the great strides of the government. Gallant has such a masterful touch, in just a few lines she can bring characters to life, let us see below the surfaces of relationships. In one really great scene he is bragging to the narrator, and his captive audience of fellow residents about the great strides being made in housing. His wife at once interjects, asking him why then do we not have our own house. Any married man will come close to cringing at this!
The pension residents have little privacy, a kind of instant intimacy of a transient sort prevails. I felt in this story a sense limited futures, people clinging to hopes like Senor Pineda's idolization Falange leaders.
To me the tone and colors of this story reminded me of Goya
A tragic event occurs toward the close of the story. It could have been avoided. We see the fatalism of the Spanish in the close, or at least I do. In a way it is a story also about being an immigrant, about the world views clashing, about anger over indifference in the mind of our narrator.
I read this story in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant, containing about half of her stories. As far as I know it cannot be read online. I also could not locate the first publication data but for sure it was in The New Yorker.
I offer my great thanks to Buried in Print for hosting this one a week read through of Gallant's short stories. I read this story twice. I look forward to reading many more.