Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Prodigal Parent - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first published in The New Yorker, June 7, 1969 - included in Home Truths

"Like every other form of art, literature is no more and nothing less than a matter of life and death. The only question worth asking about a story — or a poem, or a piece of sculpture, or a new concert hall — is, Is it dead or alive?".. 

Mavis Gallant

April 11, 1922 - Montreal

1950 - moves to Paris

September 1, 1951- publishes, in The New Yorker, her first short story.  She would go onto publish 116 stories in The New Yorker. ( I greatly enjoy looking at the covers of the issue in which a story was published.)

February 18, 2014 - passes away in her beloved Paris

Thinking about the quote from Gallant with which I began this post, all her stories past her test-she can put so much life in just a few pages.

The story is narrated by a man retired with a small pension.  He has just arrived from a long drive from the East Coast of Canada to Vancouver Island on the Pacific.  His wife has divorced him and he has come to stay with his 28 year old daughter.  She is divorced , childless and having an affair with a married Irishman.  The father/daughter relationship is not an easy one.  The father's bluster covers up his shame of having to live with his daughter.  She has bought some cabins and is working on turning them into a retreat for city folks.  

Drinking plays a big part in the family history.  There is so much in this painful conversation:

"“It’s not my fault. I wouldn’t keep on falling for lushes and phonies if you hadn’t been that way.” I put my glass down on the packing case she had pushed
before me, and said, “I am not, I never was, and I never could be an alcoholic.” Rhoda. seemed genuinely shocked. “I never said that. I never heard you had to be put in a hospital or anything, like my stepdaddy. But you used to stand me on a table when you had parties, Mother told me, and I used to dance to ‘Piccolo Pete.’ What happened to that record, I wonder? One of your wives most likely got it in lieu of alimony. But may God strike us both dead here and now if I ever said you were alcoholic.” It must have been to her a harsh, clinical word, associated with straitjackets."

There is so much for us to fill in here.  We see the King Lear connection a bit further on in the story.

"She had sent for me. I had come to Rhoda from her half sister Joanne, in Montreal. Joanne had repatriated me from Europe, with an air passage to back the claim. In a new bare apartment, she played severe sad music that was like herself. We ate at a scrubbed table the sort of food that can be picked up in the hand. She was the richest of my children, through her mother, but I recognized in her guarded, slanting looks the sort of avarice and fear I think of as a specific of women."

The man and his daughter get into arguments that seem to reveal a lot.  

“Oh,” she cried, with what seemed unnecessary despair, “what did you come for? All right,” she said. “I give up. You asked for it. You can stay. I mean, I’m inviting you. You can sit around and say, ‘Oxbow was a Cheswick charmer,’ all day and when someone says to me, ‘Where jer father get his accent?’ I’ll say, ‘It was a whole way of life.’ But remember, you’re not a prisoner or anything, around here. You can go whenever you don’t like the food. I mean, if you don’t like it, don’t come to me and say, ‘I don’t like the food.’ You’re not my prisoner,” she yelled, though her face was only a few inches from mine. “You’re only my father. That’s all you are.”

I have three adult daughters.  Once my wife would go out of town to family property she would give me instructions on taking care of the girls, now it is the other way round.

Mel u


Buried In Print said...

I like how you've pulled the story around to your own experience of time's passing. :)

One of the subtle touches I appreciated here was the way that the question of alcoholism permeates the story, including the bits you've shared, as well as the Father's quiet note that his daughter drinks a lot of cheap wine herself.

One line that I couldn't quite interpret was the Father's observation about how white the Irish man (whom the daughter is seeing) is, whether we are to take that as contrast or some expression of prejudice that I don't quite grasp.

My thoughts on this one are here:

Suko said...

This story sounds really interesting. The New Yorker has published many great stories over the years. Terrific post!