“When Avery was nineteen, he saw a woman on the city bus. Imagine him, uncherished—alone. It’s not just a word, lonely. Lonely adds to solitary a suggestion of longing for companionship, while lonesome heightens the suggestion of sadness; forlorn and desolate are even more isolated. Avery hated the woman on the bus. She carried friendship, that fragile animal, but she withheld it from him.”
It’s not a premise that would alarm you, normally. A woman, quiet and thoughtful within herself, notices a man diligently at work, handling his craft with skill and consideration, and she wants him. Seizing her fate firmly between her palms, she pursues and secures him, moves her life into his dwelling, and thus begins the catalogue of their romance. This synopsis, so far, reads like the pitch for a straightforward romantic comedy, maybe a little on the staid side—and there’s no denying that if “Something More” were transcribed to screen, moments of it would be dutifully sweet. Thankfully, the story recommends itself for a studied perusal because its fabric is darted through with insinuations of guilt, buttoned up by bone fixtures done in implied and understood chaos. It’s as sinister as any “girl seeks boy” story can get without latching you into the surprise woodshed by force, and that makes it riveting.
One of the reasons that this unexpectedly fierce story works as well as it does is because of the calculated startle that opens it. We learn within the first few words that Avery is a rapist, but it’s not this that draws our principal narrator, Jackie, to him. There is much more to Avery, the bespectacled, talented florist at the shop from which Jackie makes her frugal purchases, than the intimation that he may, or may not, have violated a woman’s personal, sacred space. Why the element of doubt, then, that threads itself through much of the brief, sparsely depicted narrative? If we’ve been told within the story’s initial breath that he is, in no uncertain terms, a perpetrator of sexual assault, then why is our ultimate perception of him so studded with uncertainty? Delicate, astutely moulded ambivalence of this tenor makes reading “Something More” a Sunday afternoon’s disturbing pleasure.
What I liked best was the way that the entire experience of reading puts one in mind of being primed for violence, and yet, that violence is transmitted to us with self-conscious, earnest, almost awkward gentility. Jackie’s domestic pugilism, her premeditative conquest and capture of Avery, is so whisperingly well done that a coarse reader might easily miss it—but every devoted entry in her catalogue of ownership is neatly scribbled. From the moment she decides on making Avery her own, stalking him with delicate fixation outside the florist’s as he compiles a stunning bouquet for her, to the way she solicitously nurses him back to good health when she’s moved her life into his old-fashioned apartment, Jackie traces affectionate, unmistakable brands onto the artistic young man she’s made her partner and prey. The way she claims his body as her own is simultaneously chilling/thrilling to envision:
“She stayed home from work, stayed home from school, and when his fever broke, she made him hard in her hands and fit herself on top of him. She held his wrists above his head and buried her face against his neck.”
By having her consecrate all of her hours to Avery’s care (and in so doing sublimating her importance), and then asserting her importance by possessing him, Lorraine sculpts Jackie’s duality magnificently: the duality that simmers in each of us, to abnegate and to rule over another, over and within ourselves.
If you’re receptive to its imbedded frissons of alarm, and sensitive to its open-handed sense of storytelling justice, “Something More” will own your Sunday’s attention, utterly. I am almost always impressed by a fictive voice that documents with as little intrusive, perception-distorting authorial judgement as possible, and Lorraine is proficient at telling the intertwined stories of Avery and Jackie on a slate so bereft of omniscient frowns or applause as to be pristine. The authoress isn’t debating, here, whether or not people are compelled to do terrible things. Knowing that we already know the answer to that, she peels back the covers we make for our facilely lying faces, to examine our secret compulsions, and to probe discomfitingly at the tacit deceits we feed ourselves, even when we’re certainly fooling no-one.
You can read “Something More” by Erica Lorraine here. (Joyland)
This week, the lovely Jennifer of Books, Personally, shares her thoughts on “Lucky Bamboo” by Agnieszka Stachura, here. Ellen, the creator of the Story Sundays feature, proprietress of Fat Books and Thin Women, is currently on blogging hiatus.
Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email story.sundaysATgmail.com for details.