Alaska by Alice Adams, 1983
The magic trick:
Two women, two stories, separate but with commonalities
Happy New Year to you! I hope it’s a good one. A good day and a good 2022. Every week this year on SSMT will be devoted to a certain state. Four stories set in New Hampshire, for example, one week; four stories set in Ohio the next. So, you say, today’s story is called “Alaska,” I guess we’re starting with a week about Alaska?
That’s a sharp observation. But it’s wrong.
Today’s title is pure coincidence.
We start with this story because it’s a tale of new beginnings, always a good New Year’s theme. The states start next week!
Mrs. Lawson and Gloria are cleaning women in the same house in San Francisco. From there, we are treated to various connections and dualities between their stories. Both are wrestling with busy, angst-ridden internal monologues. Both are struggling to define themselves against the people in their lives. And Alaska features prominently in both their stories.
Ultimately, both women stories are about fresh starts. One is excited to embark on what feels like a new lease on life. The other has been through similar experiences to know better.
And that’s quite a trick on Adams’s part.
However, despite her and Gloria getting along okay, in the late afternoons Mrs. Lawson begins to worry that Gloria will find something wrong there, when she comes first thing in the morning. Something that she, Mrs. Lawson, did wrong. She even imagines Gloria saying to Miss Goldstein, Honestly, how come you keep on that old Mrs. Lawson? She can’t see to clean very good, she’s too old to work.
She does not really think that Gloria would say a thing like that, and even if she did Miss Goldstein wouldn’t listen, probably. Still, the idea is very worrying to her, and in an anxious way she sweeps up the kitchen floor, and dustmops the long front hall.
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