Roses, Rhododendron by Alice Adams, 1975
The magic trick:
Blurring memory and nostalgia to the point where different characters and events feel like reflections
I knew I liked this story a lot early in the reading process.
By the end, I knew it was one of the best stories I’d read in a very long time.
A day later, when I was up in the middle of the night thinking about its different possible meanings, I realized it was one of my favorite short stories of all time.
It’s that good.
It’s nostalgic without being sentimental. It’s introspective without being self-absorbed. It’s really the best of all things.
My favorite part – and it’s the part that woke me up thinking the night after I read the story – is the way each character and event begins to mirror one another as the story goes on. The narrative lens zooms out near the end so that we get more information about what happened to these families in the decades after the plot ends. What we find is an intriguing ambiguity about who is who, where memory and romanticism intersect.
The story’s final scene only spurs the reader on to indulge in those mystery-solving thoughts.
And that’s quite a trick on Adams’s part.
I thought Harriet was an extraordinary person – more intelligent, more poised, and prettier than any girl of my age I had ever known. I felt that she could become anything at all – a writer, an actress, a foreign correspondent (I went to a lot of movies). And I was not entirely wrong; she eventually became a sometimes-published poet.
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