Aqua Boulevard by Maile Meloy, 2001
The magic trick:
Building pace with rapid and extensive back story
This one won Meloy an award, and it’s easy to see why: it’s original and traditional at the same time. Really great stuff.
The backstory comes flooding out immediately. The narrator tells us about people he used to know. He tells us how he’s been reminded of them by seeing one of them at a club recently. He tells us about his children. He tells us about his old friend. He tells us about his wife. About their pet dog. About the water park.
And this is a short short story. The information and connections come at the reader fast and furious. In all, I figure the plot is about one quarter new events and three quarters back story related to us in order to help us understand those new events.
That might sound like a bad ratio, but it’s actually pretty exhilarating. Every sentence feels like research to help you understand. Every character becomes real to you very quickly. The narrative’s conclusion feels like a punch to the stomach and a welcome chance to catch your breath, all at once.
And that’s quite a trick on Meloy’s part.
It was thirty years ago I knew Mia, the grandmother, and we were not so careful about what we said thirty years ago; Mia had three bambini, all with a German father, and we used to say they were not black or white, they were gray. They were geren, we said. We called them les petits verts. But you see – the eldest of les petits verts grew up to be a film actress like her mother, and had this daughter who can stand on her head on a horse in the Polo Club in Paris. The little girl came from the horses and kissed me hello, on the left and right, with a shining face and blue eyes. Life is long, when you live a long time – that seems a simple fact, but you don’t know it until you have a lunch like this one.
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