‘The Springs Of Affection’ by Maeve Brennan

The Springs Of Affection by Maeve Brennan, 1972

The magic trick:

Telling the entire story through a woman’s memories, bouncing all over the family timeline

We wrap up the Bagot family stories today with a classic. The story itself is very good. But it’s what it does to wrap up the entire story cycle that really amazes me. These eight stories taken as a whole form what can only be called a beautiful series – a triumphant example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

In “The Springs Of Affection,” we leave the setting of the previous Bagot stories and find ourselves nearly a half-century in the future. Mr. and Mrs. Bagot are dead. Martin’s sister Min is our only surviving connection. And so the story consists entirely of flashbacks. Min is sitting alone in her flat thinking back over her life.

It’s a simple but brilliant storytelling device. It gives us crucial information about where things stand now. It allows the story to jump all over the timeline through different memories. And, most crucially, it gives us everything from Min’s point of view. She is a very unhappy person, who has lived a lonely, frustrating life. So we feel sympathy. But we also have sympathy for Delia and, in most cases, Martin. Min’s judgments feel too sharp. She’s too bitter. But then we see, through the memories of her mother, why she has been made to think this way, and our sympathies for her rise again.

It really is a remarkably complete picture. You feel all sorts of things along the way. It’s a story so good, it makes you want to read the entire cycle again.

And that’s quite a trick on Brennan’s part.

The selection:

“He’s devoted to my mother,” she always said, lowering her eyes to her work in a way that showed Martin’s devotion to be of such magnitude that it was almost sacred, so that the mere mention of it made her want silence in the room. Silence or an end to that kind of careless meddlesome talk.

“Martin has no time to spend gadding around,” she said to a customer who teased her too pointedly.

“Oh, Min, you’re a real old maid,” the customer said. “Martin’s going to surprise you all one of these days. Some girl will comes along and sweep him off his feet. Wait and see.”

Min told her mother about that remark. “Pay no attention to her, Min,” Bridget said. “Martin’s no fool. He knows when he’s well off. He’s too comfortable ever to want to leave home. He’s as set in his ways as a man of forty. Martin’s a born bachelor.”

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