‘The Mysteries Of Life In An Orderly Manner’ by Jessamyn West

West, Jessamyn 1948

The Mysteries Of Life In An Orderly Manner by Jessamyn West, 1948

The magic trick:

Obstructing the story’s main theme until the end

Today begins a week of Jessamyn West stories. That means a trip back in time to post-war California where the suburbs were born among the deserts and ranches and rural communities. Or something like that.

We start with two stories featuring Emily Cooper navigating a new home. I don’t much like this story. I love Jessamyn West stories. I don’t really like this one.

It’s an oddly slight story. There is the setup – Emily waiting with her husband before going in to join a social club in the town. Then there is the action – the parade of townspeople passing by. But all of that’s misleading. It’s a big misdirection. The real story lies in the interactions between husband and wife. She’s not happy. He doesn’t get it. I’m not sure I get it. The story plays coy with its meaning all the way to the end. And that’s quite a trick on West’s part.

The selection:

Mr. Cooper leaned over, detained her with his hand on her arm. “But you do,” he said. “You always do. What do you want me to say? Want me to be a liar?”

“No,” said Emily, “but if I knew you were critical, it would give me more confidence.”

“Oh, critical!” said Mr. Cooper, surprised. “Why, I’m critical, critical as all getout. That Second Runner, now. She’s bandy-legged. I criticized it in her first thing. They’d ought to have given her the wampum job. Something she could do sitting down, not put her to running.”

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