City Visit by Adam Haslett, 2005
The magic trick:
Exploring the relationship between Brendan and his mother but never explaining it
”City Visit” tells the story of Brendan’s first sexual encounter during a trip to New York City. And while there is plenty to take away from that aspect of the story, I was most affected by the relationship between Brendan and his mother.
It begins with clichéd teen angst. Brendan is embarrassed by his mother’s fashion choices. It’s an immature and dramatic reaction on his part. The portrait of the relationship that follows is far more nuanced, with Haslett never explicitly defining actions or motivations. We only get hints. A brief tangent into backstory tells us that his mother probably knows about her son’s homosexuality. Certainly she can guess. We’re also led to believe during this brief section of backstory that she probably doesn’t approve. She attends a conservative church.
But here’s the really interesting part: she doesn’t restrict her son’s actions. She knows what her son is here for, why he’s excited. She guilt trips him a little with a passive aggressive comment about his grandmother paying for the trip, but beyond that, she lets him go. Her stoic behavior in New York is beautiful and heartbreaking – all the more thanks to the restraint shown by the author. He explores their relationship but never explains it. And that’s quite a trick on Haslett’s part.
He grabbed his wallet from the bedside table and stuffed it deep in his pocket. Across the room his mother sat in one of the overstuffed chairs, facing out the window that overlooked the park.
“It’s your grandmother you have to thank for all this, you know,” she said. “She wanted to give us—you and me—she wanted to give us a treat after your father left. You’re going to write her a thank-you note.”
“Sure,” he said, wishing she’d look at him when she spoke. “I’ll be back later, okay?”
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