‘The Camberwell Beauty’ by V.S. Pritchett

Pritchett, V.S. 1974

The Camberwell Beauty by V.S. Pritchett, 1974

The magic trick:

Combining setting with concept and metaphor

“The Camberwell Beauty” takes the reader into England’s high-end antique trade, but it soon becomes clear Pritchett did not pick this setting and scene simply because he likes antiques. The whole story begins to work as a metaphor as the narrator falls in love with Isabel. His desire to find and possess her is exactly the same as the desire felt by antique dealers for certain objects and collections. She exists as a quest, a prized accomplishment, more than she does as an actual human being. As a result, the story, previously a fairly drab character study amidst the unscrupulous antiquing industry, becomes an interesting consideration on possessive love. And that’s quite a trick on Pritchett’s part.

The selection:

The moral is this: if “The Burning of Cranmer” was August’s treasure, it was hopeless to try and get it before he had time to guess what mine was. It was clear to him that I was too new to the trade to have one.

‘Liars In Love’ by Richard Yates

Yates, Richard 1982

Liars In Love by Richard Yates, 1981

The magic trick:

A great title

I love the title of this story. It’s catchy and memorable like a great pop song title. It’s also instructive as to what Yates is saying in the story.

Christine lies. We see that. Warren is very obviously concerned about her lies. We don’t any help in seeing that. With the title’s guidance, though, the reader is prompted to look further and find the lies in the other characters’ actions as well. Warren and Carol lie to their daughter, to Carol’s aunt Judith. Warren lies to Christine about his feelings and intentions. Much of the surface happiness in Grace and Alfred’s apartment is based on lies, half-truths, and hidden feelings. Everyone lies.

Tellingly, when the characters in the story communicate honestly, things play out far better than they anticipated. Yates grants them happy endings only when they stop lying. The theme permeates damn near every sentence of the story, and the title keeps the reader’s focus on this idea. And that’s quite a trick on Yates’s part.

The selection:

“Know what I like most about you, Warren?” she asked very late in their third or fourth night together. “Know what I really love about you? It’s that I feel I can trust you. All my life, that’s all I ever wanted: somebody to trust. And you see I keep making mistakes and making mistakes because I trust people who turn out to be – “

“Shh, shh,” he said, “it’s OK, baby. Let’s just sleep now.”