Friday, July 20, 2007

The New Yorker: "Shauntrelle" by Antonya Nelson

Constance, now that her daughter is away at college, has finally left her husband with the intent of living with her boyfriend of several years. Except he’s not interested, so she stays with her father and step-mother (both senior V.P.s of the energy company where Constance works), then in a hotel for a month, then she moves into a “corporate apartment” with a stranger, Fanny Mann. [I think there’s a flaw in the time frame here; Constance refers to her divorce, but it appears that only 5 weeks have passed since he told her husband about her affair which is what prompted him to throw her out. But maybe I missed something.] Constance isn’t too comfortable with who she is and doesn’t like to be alone. (Fanny isn’t that different, really, and goes through a series of cosmetic surgeries.) And in a sense Constance doesn’t exist anyway – there’s someone else’s voice on the answering machine; calls come for various former residents of the apartment, including Shauntrelle, which leads Fanny to jokingly call her by the names of those various phantoms. In the end, although Constance is a wonderfully complex character, I don’t feel that she has changed or learned, and as a reader I’m not really interested in what happens to her. She herself has no idea where she’s going next. I like Nelson’s work very much (I met her at Bread Loaf last year), but I don’t think the ending of this story is successful.

July 23, 2007: “Shauntrelle” by Antonya Nelson


katrina said...

Great story. Antonya is a sharp writer--her language is elegant and brilliant. In my mind Constance does change: during her stay at the apartment she's in a state of waiting for one of her men to come rescue her. In the end, she leaves on her own, destination unknown. Fanny Mann's character is almost over-the-top. Almost.
Thanks for pointing this one out, Cliff.

Clifford Garstang said...

I guess you're right, Kat. But still, I just didn't care about Constance or where she was going. I agree with you about Fanny -- quite a character.

katrina said...

Here's something interesting for me: twenty minutes after reading the story I could only tell you the basics of who Constance is. She once had a husband, a boyfriend, a daughter (who may or may not be a lesbian), and two dogs. I read the whole story and still did not get a grasp of who she is. Nelson's declaration in the first graph essentially is proven throughout the whole story that Constance had become the pronoun she.

And the over-the-top (okay, I'll give in to my gut which says she is over-the-top) character only takes more shine away from the character. Which character is most memorable?

Clifford Garstang said...

That's an excellent point. I do feel much more interested in what Fanny will do back home in New Orleans than what will become of Constance.