Privacy by Richard Ford, 1996
The magic trick:
Enriching the story’s meaning through the title
Surely, I’m repeating myself. It’s been two years on this SSMT blog. But this trick is worth repeating and merits repeat mention. In “Privacy,” the title serves to point the reader toward one of the story’s less obvious points.
The story is quick, so you might need some help assessing what it means. Let the title guide you. The plot features our narrator invading the privacy of a neighbor. He watches through his apartment window as she undresses each night hundreds of feet away in her bedroom. If the story was called “Neighbors” or perhaps “Spying” we would likely settle on this scenario as the beginning and ending of our analysis. But it’s called “Privacy.” OK, so where does that lead us?
It led me to the narrator’s relationship with his wife. He sets up the story with the ominously loaded first sentence: “This was at a time when my marriage was still happy.” So this becomes a story about the walls that are forming between husband and wife – the way she goes to bed early without him; the way he takes an interest in this neighbor’s intimate life. The privacy of the title refers to the separate, private live the adults in this marriage are forging. And that’s quite a trick on Ford’s part.
Nothing more happened. Though in the nights to come I stayed awake to watch the woman, letting my wife go off to sleep in her fatigue. Each night, and for a week following, the woman would appear at her window and slowly disrobe in her room (a room I never tried to imagine, although on the wall behind her was what looked like a drawing of a springing deer).