‘The Presentation On Egypt’ by Camille Bordas

The Presentation On Egypt by Camille Bordas, 2019

The magic trick:

A lovely scene/memory that captures a lot of what the story is saying

This story is all over the place, quality wise. Easy for me to say, I know, but hear me out.

The weird, cold open that turns out to be only tangentially related to the rest of the story? Not great.

The way the story seeks to cover 30 years of character history a la Alice Munro? A little clunky.

The interactions between Danielle and her mother? Not great. Not natural. Not believable.

But on the other side of the coin, there are elements of this story that strike me as jaw-droppingly good.

Danielle’s character, in general, is very, very well drawn. I finished the story feeling like I knew her.

The scene early on in which Anna knows what’s in the laundry room and chooses not to tell her daughter is melodramatic but touching.

The scene in which Danielle swallows the lighter is amusing and feels real.

The conversation between Danielle and Cesar as adults is outstanding. This the part of the story that seems the most familiar to the author. It certainly feels authentic.

And finally, let’s get down to the magic trick – an aspect of the story so good it nearly brought tears to my eyes. There is this scene, this memory Danielle has of catching her father smoking one night outside of the family’s house. He motions to her in a way that suggests he’s asking her to keep it secret. The story returns to this image a couple times, and with good reason. It’s excellent stuff. It connects so much about what the story is trying to say about relationships and love and memory and secrets. I’m not sure every other element in the story is nearly as successful, but this one is so good it really doesn’t matter.

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

The selection:

“Well, it’s true you’re not exactly a ray of sunshine,” Cesar said.

“And fuck you, too.”

“I just find it funny that you always go for the super-happy-go-lucky guys, when you’re about the darkest person I know.”

“You need balance in life,” Danielle said. “Also, am I that dark? Don’t I just see the world as it is?”

“You like feeling shitty,” Cesar said. “You go the extra mile.”

Danielle tested her theory on Cesar, about lines of work, how she believed that a person had to convince herself that the one path she’d chosen was the most meaningful, and how maybe that was why nobody ever got along. Cesar thought about it, but not for very long.

“Yeah,” he said, “I don’t think you’re right—that a mathematician sees everything through a math prism, or whatever. I read some literary criticism about that, actually. It talked about how farmers never thought in farming metaphors, for example, how only writers thought they did.”

“Armand spoke almost exclusively in hotel metaphors,” Danielle said.


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