‘A Leading Role’ by Tove Jansson

A Leading Role by Tove Jansson, 1978

The magic trick:

Setting up a conflict that seems ready to boil over but then showing restraint in the resolution

I kept waiting for the confrontation. And waiting and waiting.

It seemed such a natural conclusion to the familiar setup. The rich, successful actress is using her plain Jane cousin for notes on playing the role of a plain Jane cousin type. The cousin, of course, doesn’t know this and is nothing but grateful, kind and generous.

When does the bottom cave in?

Well, that’s just it – it doesn’t. The story’s resolution is far more restrained that that – and all the more satisfying for it. And that’s quite a trick on Jansson’s part.

The selection:

But the weather didn’t change. The fog lay just as tight around the house when Frida arrived. Maria paid close attention to her cautious way of stepping off the bus, her exaggerated gratitude when the driver helped her with her bag. Her clothes were right – in fact, perfect – not too unpretentious. There was an actual attempt at a modest elegance, a misguided attempt. I’ll skip the glasses, she thought. That would be overkill. But I can keep the way she peeks over them, yeah, I can use that.

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