‘Mr. Salary’ by Sally Rooney

Mr. Salary by Sally Rooney, 2016

The magic trick:

Making connections in the story by pairing two very different scenes together

These Sally Rooney stories all hit most of the same notes. But when the notes are all struck so pure, who cares about repetition? I’m increasingly convinced of her genius with every piece I read.

The characters’ believably awkward dialogue; the situations so specific they can only feel real; what else?

Well, in “Mr. Salary” we get a very poignant and perhaps telling pairing of dramatic scenes: without spoiling the plot too much, I’ll just call them death and sex. It is a rare double resolution for a short story. It’s also a clever way to make a powerful point without saying it.

And that’s quite a trick on Rooney’s part.

The selection:

Two years before, when I was twenty-two, we went to a family New Year’s party together and came home very drunk in a taxi. I was still living with him then, finishing my undergraduate degree. Inside the door of his apartment, against the wall with the coat hooks, he kissed me. I felt feverish and stupid, like a thirsty person with too much water suddenly pouring into their mouth. Then he said in my ear: We really shouldn’t do this. He was thirty-eight. That was it, he went to bed. We never kissed again. He even shrugged it off when I joked about it, the only time I could remember him being unkind to me. Did I do something? I said, after a few weeks. That made you want to stop, that time. My face was burning, I felt it. He winced. He didn’t want to hurt me. He said no. It was over, that was it.

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