‘A Visit’ by Steven Millhauser


A Visit by Steven Millhauser, 1997

The magic trick:

Using magical realism but having the narrator respond with the same reasonable, normal expectations of the reader

Today’s story deals in a bit of magical realism. To be specific, the entire story – conflicts and motivations – is handled with total normalcy except for one detail: the narrator learns upon visiting his friend that his friend is married to a frog.

Huh. OK.

The truly interesting aspect is the narrator’s reaction. He does not take it as normal but neither does he freak out and panic. He takes the reader into his confidence, sharing his judgments and disgust, while projecting an open-minded approval to his friend.

As a result, the rather showy trick of making the friend’s wife a frog isn’t designed for show or shock. It’s simply a means toward demonstrating the values of the respective men – narrator and friend – and the gulf that has only widened between them over the years. And that’s quite a trick on Millhauser’s part.

The selection:

I felt I was being tested in some fiendish way. “Pleased to meet you,” I said harshly, and sat down across from her. The table lay between us like a lake. I had thought she might be something else, maybe a stuffed toy of some sort, but even in the dark daylight I could see the large moist eyes looking here and there; I could see her rapid breathing, and smell her marshy odor. I thought that Albert must be making fun of me, trying to trick me into exposing what he took to be my hideous bourgeois soul, but whatever his game I wasn’t going to give myself away.

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