Remembering Mavis Gallant

February 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

The New Yorker has opened up its archive of stories by Mavis Gallant, who has died at the age of ninety-one. I read Varieties of Exile last November and loved it, particularly the Mme. Carette stories.

The title story from that collection is among the stories shared here.

Gallant’s New York Times obituary indirectly attributes her eye for detail, particularly her ability to capture characters pressed and made brittle through slights and unrealized expectations, to her work as a journalist:

“If I got on with the people,” she told The Times, “I had no hesitation about seeing them again – the widow of the slain shopkeeper or policeman, I went right back and took them to lunch. I could see some of those rooms, and see the wallpaper, and what they ate, and what they wore, and how they spoke, and their vocabulary, and the way they treated their children. I drew it all in like blotting paper.”

Gallant, who was detached from her parents (“I had a mother who should not have had children, and it’s as simple as that.”) and had no children of her own, used them as weapons of perception in her fiction:

Ms. Gallant also endowed children with special powers that vanish as they grow up. In “The Doctor,” she wrote: “Unconsciously, everyone under the age of 10 knows everything. Under-ten can come into a room and sense at once everything felt, kept silent, held back in the way of love, hate and desire, though he may not have the right words for such sentiments. It is part of the clairvoyant immunity to hypocrisy we are born with and that vanishes just before puberty.”

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