‘The State Of Nature’ by Camille Bordas

The State Of Nature by Camille Bordas, 2018

The magic trick:

Stitching together several anecdotes with symbolic connections, but never explicitly noting what those connections add up to

This story presents four or five different situations and conflicts and characters in what almost appear to be isolated anecdotes. So we’ve got an optometrist who’s lonely; we hear about her cat; we hear about her mother; her apartment gets robbed; she’s got a patient who is a little bit neurotic, telling stories about the apocalypse. We’ve got these different things, and we kind of take a trip through each of them two or three times. And as it goes on, it becomes more and more clear that some of these things are relating to each other; if not exactly, then at least a little bit thematically or symbolically.

So, it doesn’t exactly represent anybody’s real life, because I don’t think that anybody’s real life works like that, where we have our mother talking about crisis, and a patient at work who’s talking about crisis. That’s not how life is. So it’s self-consciously fashioned to be symbolic in that way. But what’s interesting is that Bordas never explicitly links any of these things. There are clearly familiar connections that most readers will make, but it’s never made plain what this is adding up to.

So, in that way, you’re kind of left at the end with a little bit of an empty feeling. I’d almost prefer that she kind of went for it, and just stitched it all up in some kind of neat little set of coincidences or plot points. Instead we just get connections to be made but no score ever tallied. It’s an interesting, if slightly frustrating, way to tell a story. And that’s quite a trick on Bordas’s part.

The selection:

At my mother’s that Sunday—we did lunch every Sunday—I talked about Catapult’s still mysterious anger and the locksmith’s tragic childhood. My mother shared her general suspicion of locksmiths. Certainly, she said, they must have a copy of every single key to every single lock they’d ever installed, or a magic key to all doors, and they entered people’s homes to steal small items whose absence wouldn’t be noticed for a while; worse, perhaps the locksmiths didn’t steal anything, just took naps on beds that weren’t theirs, drank out of people’s favorite cups, shit in their toilets. Only other locksmiths ever had a clue.

“In your case, though, it’s not a locksmith who did the deed,” my mother said. “Obviously. We’re looking at someone who knows about old optical equipment. Did you tell the police that?”

My mother was glad about the burglary, in a way. She got to use all the knowledge that she’d gleaned from reading crime novels for the past forty years.

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