Janus by Ann Beattie, 1985
The magic trick:
Imbuing the bowl in the story with all kinds of symbolic meaning
I recently read an interview with Stuart Dybek on the AV Club in which he highlights some of his favorite stories that function through a single item. So I’m sure that was just on my mind when I went back to look at “Janus.” Still, that being said, Beattie does pretty much exactly what Dybek is talking about in that interview: she imbues the bowl in this story with a complicated set of emotional attachments.
At various points and in varying degrees the bowl represents her financial and career success, her marital infidelity, her love for another man, frustration with her husband, intelligence, selfishness, happiness and guilt, freedom and dependence. And that’s quite a trick on Beattie’s part.
She had first seen the bowl several years earlier, at a crafts fair she had visited half in secret, with her lover. He had urged her to buy the bowl. She didn’t needany more things, she told him. But she had been drawn to the bowl, and they had lingered near it. Then she went on to the next booth, and he came up behind her, tapping the rim against her shoulder as she ran her fingers over a wood carving. “You’re still insisting that I buy that?” she said. “No:’ he said. “I bought it for you.”