The There There by Antonya Nelson, 2014
The magic trick:
The relationship between Caroline and Crystal
Many of the stories in Funny Once share similar elements, situations, even characters. That’s not a complaint. It just is. In many ways, “The There There” blends into the crowd of middle-aged single parents whose lives, for a variety of reasons, fell of the rails. There is, however, one aspect of this story that sets it apart among the others in the collection: the relationship between Caroline and Crystal. In fact, I can’t recall a relationship in literature or film or anything that is quite like this one.
Its unique qualities are borne of shock value or anything crazy. It’s all very believable, a natural progression. And nothing crazy comes of it, either. Nelson could have done something very big or plotty with it, but she shows tremendous restraint and just lets it kind of build and linger and drift – the way real life happens. And that’s quite a trick on Nelson’s part.
Caroline and Crystal were now equally alone in their homes half a block apart, newly aware of one another, both lonely for Drew. Caroline felt specifically responsible; when she walked to school in the morning, she’d check for signs that Crystal had come home the night before – boots left outside the door, overhead porch light extinguished. Some evenings she went to the Mexican restaurant where Crystal waited tables and sat in her section, drinking margaritas and talking. They had more to say to each other in public than they did in private. Or maybe it was the margaritas. Maybe one of them needed to be drunk before they could really converse.