‘No One’s A Mystery’ by Elizabeth Tallent


No One’s A Mystery by Elizabeth Tallent, 1985

The magic trick:

Using a single object – in this case a diary – as a vehicle for the story’s central conflict

There is a story called “The Mechanic” by Lena Dunham in which the narrator – a young woman – envisions with brutal clarity a future without her current boyfriend – an older man. In “No One’s A Mystery,” the brutal clarity is there but in this case it is the older boyfriend who is envisioning the fractured future while the younger woman remains blissfully ignorant. I am not sure which scenario I like better. Both are good stories drawing out different themes.

Anyway, this one uses a neat little device in the form of a diary. Jack gives the narrator – his younger lover – a diary for her 18th birthday. It becomes the vehicle for his vision of the future. The story’s main idea is that the two lovers disagree about what the future holds. The diary is the means for that disagreement. And that’s quite a trick on Tallent’s part.

The selection:

For my eighteenth birthday Jack gave me a five-year diary with a latch and a little key, light as a dime. I was sitting beside him scratching at the lock, which didn’t seem to want to work, when he thought he saw his wife’s Cadillac in the distance, coming toward us. He pushed me down onto the dirty floor of the pickup and kept one hand on my head while I inhaled the musk of his cigarettes in the dashboard ashtray and sang along with Rosanne Cash on the tape deck.


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