‘A Free Choice’ by Maeve Brennan

A Free Choice by Maeve Brennan, 1964

The magic trick:

Resolving the manic trip into Rose’s insecurities with a pleasantly surprising sweetness 

We continue our week of Maeve Brennan stories about the Derdons. Yesterday’s sprawling story, “A Young Girl Can Spoil Her Chances,” goes back and forth between a promising past and the painful present in Rose and Hubert’s relationship.

Today is locked in that promising past. A young Rose is at a party, hoping Hubert will ask her to dance. We get the usual Maeve Brennan angst and frustration. The trip into Rose’s psyche is so intimate and the details are so fine, it can be painful for the reader.

The resolution here, though, in sharp contrast to much of the rest of the Maeve Brennan catalogue, is pure sweetness. Rose is rescued, if temporarily, from her fears and insecurities. It’s enough to make you smile. And that’s quite a trick on Brennan’s part.

The selection:

She would rather have no hope at all, and know there was no chance for her, than to have to contend with this little hope she had, that she was ashamed of, because it was so little and so timid. She felt that Hubert knew about this hope – that it was little and that it was timid – and that he was amused by it and that he was playing with her and hoping she would betray herself and then, for some reason unknown to anyone, he would laugh at her. And her mother would laugh, too. And her mother’s reason for laughter was not unknown to her but familiar. Her mother would laugh out of despair, because once again Rose had let the side down. Her mother would laugh because her mother knew that sooner or later somebody would let the side down, because that is the way it was in their family. It was bad enough to be not good enough, but to invite laughter was a crime against the family. And everybody outside the house was ready to laugh. Her mother had told her again and again that they were all only waiting to see somebody make a false step.

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