Our bodies, this story seems to be saying, are in complicity with our emotions. Young love gave the narrator a skin condition; divorce gave him hives. Now, having met a mysterious young doctor, he is intent on her skin, and her own body’s complicity with her emotions. They take things slowly, they let their emotions make contact first, getting to know each other, getting comfortable with each other. It is only in the last line, when their emotions are ready, that their bodies are allowed to touch.
I like this story, and I think I’ll like it more on a second reading—I want to think more about why we hear twice of the narrator as a “hiccupping boy;” why he is so interested in the gloves that the woman wears, why the blindfolded feeling games he mentions seem so important; and why the presence of her mother when the narrator meets her is deemed significant. All of these things seem to contribute to the complicity, but in ways I’m not quite ready to articulate. Also, he goes on at some length about what parents warn their children about. “We were never warned about heartbreak,” he says, and I’m not sure if that refers to his experience with young love, or his divorce, or possibly his fear/expectation about what will happen with his new relationship.
Many stories this year in the New Yorker have not given me any reason to think about them once I’ve finished reading. This one is different. I applaud you, Mr. Barnes. Fine story.
October 19, 2009: “Complicity” by Julian Barnes