Of Mystery There Is No End by Leonard Michaels, 2002
The magic trick:
Unfurling an unfulfilled relationship between Nachman and Adele under the surface of their conversation at the heart of the story
This is the Nachman story when I realized this wasn’t simply a character who turned up in a couple of good stories; this was a series of stories I would return to often into the future. I really love this story.
The dialogue between Nachman and Adele is truly remarkable. So many writers struggle to replicate realistic speech patterns. Others rely on exaggerated regional dialect or slang to paper over their weakness in writing conversation.
Michaels neither struggles nor is showy. He uses Adele as a kind of psychologist (so many of these Nachman interactions really do just function as foils that draw out his feelings). Her dialogue isn’t standard-issue talk. She sounds like an analyst. A very defensive analyst. But I think that’s how people are sometimes. They’re not just people. They don’t talk normally. There is no normal.
The conversation rings true to me, and their conversation is crucial to illuminating their relationship for both the reader and Nachman himself.
What is he feeling? Why is he feeling it? The more they talk, the more this unspoken relationship unfurls beneath the surface.
It’s a beautiful story.
And that’s quite a trick on Michaels’s part.
“You trivialize my feelings.”
“What is it that you feel? Tell me exactly.”
“This minute, talking to you, I feel exactly as if I were betraying Norbert.”
“Oh, please. Every time you look at me, you betray Norbert. When I stroll down Wilshire Boulevard, Norbert is betrayed sixty times a minute. I answer the door to the postman, Norbert has horns. This is California, not Saudi Arabia. I’m a woman on display, front and back. Do you know it’s been said that a modern woman can neither dress nor undress.”
“Who said it?”
“I don’t know, but it’s true. Look, all that matters is you and me, Nachman—we’re friends. Our conversation is not a betrayal of anybody. Aren’t we friends? I thought we were friends.”
Adele was crying.