A Family Man by V.S. Pritchett, 1977
The magic trick:
Pushing the protagonist toward redemption by having her lie more and more elaborately
Welcome to a week of English lit. V.S. Pritchett is known as a master of short fiction. I’ve yet to find a story of his that really blew my mind. “A Family Man” is fine, but no showstopper that sends you running to the library to find everything he has ever written. We’ll see.
Anyway, it’s a little bit of a comedy of errors. A love triangle that turns out to be a rectangle. I enjoyed Berenice’s relationship to the truth throughout the story. She is, we should remember, having a love affair with a married man. But that doesn’t’ seem to trouble her as much as actually telling lies to cover up the affair. Pritchett throws in the humorous detail early on that she was raised by Quakers, taught to never act or tell a lie.
She is scared of lying to Mrs. Cork initially. Soon she gets a perverse thrill out of it. She gets pretty good at it pretty quickly, inventing more and more elaborate excuses. Finally, she is able to construct a lie that does good. She recasts the story in a kind (and totally false) way for Mrs. Cork. It’s a rare example of redemption through dishonesty. And that’s quite a trick on Pritchett’s part.
And even as she said it, because of Mrs. Cork’s overwhelming presence, the great appeasing lie came out of her before she could stop herself. ‘A present,’ she said. ‘Actually,’ she said, ‘we all got together at the College. A present for Rosie Glowitz. She’s getting married again. I expect that is what the letter is about. Mr. Cork arranged it. He is very kind and thoughtful.’
She heard herself say this with wonder. Her other lies had glittered, but this one had the beauty of a newly discovered truth.
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I like your assessment of redemption through dishonesty. I like the way the young woman is portrayed. She’s fully in charge of how she wants to live her life, even if it’s dishonest. She feels she calls the shots, but then finds out that’s not the case. Do you know the year the story was written? At the end, when she talks her head off at the Brewster’s house, I feel like she’s working hard to maintain her level of denial about being a liar and a mistress.