It might be my fault that I didn’t like this story. I was in the mood to be transported and this didn’t do it for me. It felt like mush. Familiar mush. Well-written mush, but mush all the same. And the ending might have given the story an opportunity a chance to redeem itself, but it only made things worse. Spoiler warning here: I’m probably going to give away the ending of the story, so if you haven’t read the thing yet and you plan to, come back to this discussion after. The beginning of the story is sleepy. Too sleepy. Eve is mourning her father’s death and is clearly not feeling good about her marriage to Matt, who has been a pretty insensitive prick while Eve’s father has been lingering. After her father is gone, Even isn’t too sorry that Matt’s out of town so much, although she is lonely. (Hmm, this woman’s ripe for an affair! But that would be really boring, so it better be a really interesting affair.) The only bright spot for her at first is visits from her sister-in-law Martha, but then Even joins a bell-ringing group in the local village and that’s pleasant enough, particularly because she has thoughts about the handsome young American who is, for reasons that don’t really make sense, also in the group. (We can see where this is headed.) Martha tells Eve something she doesn’t want to hear – she’s having an affair. Martha doesn’t offer the identity of her lover and Eve doesn’t ask, and this is our clue that the lover’s identity is significant and that we are about to be surprised by that secret identity. (Let’s see: we’re pretty sure Eve’s attempts to cheat on Matt are going to be frustrated because that wouldn’t be very interesting; the only other man in the story besides Martha’s husband and Eve’s husband, who is Martha’s brother, is the young American. So guess who Martha’s having an affair with!) Actually, Eve reminds me a little of Nita in Alice Munro’s “Free Radicals” from a couple of weeks ago, but with much less depth, and I’d say that’s true of the whole story, as well.
March 17, 2008: “The Bell Ringer” by John Burnside