‘Are You In Love?’ by Alice Adams

Are You In Love? by Alice Adams, 1976

The magic trick:

Expanding the story’s depth with a deft move at the very end of the story

Jessica Todd is a middle-aged bookseller in a college town, unhappy with her own appearance and convinced that her husband has a crush on a friend of the family. We spend most of the story in her point of view, considering her feelings.

So it’s a bit jarring to learn at the very end of the text that the titular question isn’t directed at Jessica but instead from Jessica. She asked her young daughter after the girl has done something very surprising and a little bit violent as an apparent means of showing her affections.

It’s a very clever way of expanding the story’s depth in only an additional couple of paragraphs. Now it’s not just Jessica’s pain. The same tendencies and problems that have contributed to the mother’s frustration have perhaps passed down to the next generation.

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

The selection:

Dropping her robe, as no one watches, she steps into the shallow end of the rough concrete oval; as the cool sliding water reaches her waist she begins to swim a gentle breaststroke, her legs in a practiced frog kick, to the end of the pool. There she reaches for the edge, and, holding on, she looks back at the group in the clearing, in the sun, who are not looking at her. Harry (big Harry: this distinction is to become ironic in a few years, when his son grows so much larger than he) big Harry is telling a story; Jessica can catch echoes of his precise and somewhat finicky voice, not quite hearing what he says.

Tom is looking at Irene, so small and blond, preening herself in the sun, in Tom’s gaze. And Jessica wonders how that would be, to be a woman looked at by men, aware of the power of one’s face, one’s small and desirable body. She can’t imagine it, and she lets go of the end of the pool, to swim back slowly, in the cool and concealing water.


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