‘Chapter Two’ by Antonya Nelson

Nelson, Antonya 2012

Chapter Two by Antonya Nelson, 2012

The magic trick:

The conversation between Hil and Joe about different ways she could have told the story she just finished telling

Buckle up. It’s time for divorcees, single parents, loneliness, midlife crisis and dark comedy. We’re looking at stories from the Antonya Nelson Funny Once collection this week at the magic tricks blog.

Now, you know you’re in for a layered storytelling experience from the very first sentence: “Tired of telling her own story at A.A., Hil was trying to tell the story of her neighbor.” And we go on from there.

It becomes a story of Hil, a story of her neighbor, a story of sad marriages, mother-son relationships, societal expectations and, most of all, a story about stories. This point is made crystal clear near the end when Hil discusses her storytelling options with a friend. She considers which entry point to take with the tale about her neighbor and how each option would affect the audience’s reaction to the story. It doesn’t feel like a cutesy, meta trick, either. It feels very natural within the flow of the story, within the nature of Hil’s character, and it forces the reader to look at the story with the same considerations. And that’s quite a trick on Nelson’s part.

The selection:

Tired of telling her own story at A.A., Hil was trying to tell the story of her neighbor. It had been a peculiar week. “So she comes to my house a few nights ago,” Hil began, “like around nine, bing-bong, drunk as a skunk, as usual, right in the middle of this show my roommate and I are watching. I go to the door and there she is, fifty-something, a totally naked lady standing under the porch light.” At the time, it had seemed designed to charm, her coy drunken neighbor sporting a plaid porkpie hat and holding a toothbrush like a flag or a flower or a torch. Choreographed, at least, and embarrassing to behold. Bergeron Love, grande dame in her own mind and all around the block.

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