Tonight Is A Favor To Holly by Amy Hempel, 1985
The magic trick:
A narrator who fools you into not noticing just how remarkably perceptible she really is
The narrator in today’s story is a little all over the shop. She talks about her life in a haphazard, nonlinear fashion. It’s conversational, if the conversation you’re having is highly caffeinated.
The life she describes seems silly, focused on all the wrong details, not ever pushing forward. So it’s easy to write the whole thing off as comedy. But look again and you see a narrator who is incredibly perceptive about certain things. We get several outstanding one-off nuggets of wisdom:
* What you forget, living here, is that just because you have stopped sinking doesn’t mean you’re not still underwater.
* A sense of humor helps.
* Our intuition is good; the problem is we ignore it.
* There are two kinds to choose from: those who are going under and those who aren’t moving ahead.
So, no, this isn’t comedy at all. This narrator isn’t oblivious. She’s kind of a genius of awareness and understanding. Her focus on the silly parts of her life is a choice. So why then does she make this choice? Why then indeed? And that’s quite a trick on Hempel’s part.
Her ex still sends snapshots – pictures of himself on camping trips at the foot of El Capitan or on the shore of Mono Lake. He mounts the pictures on cardboard, which just makes them harder to tear up.
He even stops by when he’s in town, and we pretend he’s welcome. The two of them, Holly and this ex of hers, sit around and depress each other. They know all of each other’s weak points and failings, so they can bring each other down in two-tenths of a second.
When she sees him, Holly says, it’s like the sunsets at the beach – once the sun drops, the sand chills quickly. Then it’s like a lot of times that were good ten minutes ago and don’t count now.
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