"Gavin Highly" by Janet Frame Originally published in the April 5, 2010 issue of The New Yorker. Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.
Since Janet Frame died in 2004 we’ve been seeing a few of her works published posthumously. I am not sure what of her I’ve read before, though I know I have read something by Janet Frame.
This little story was very strange, yet in the end I found it highly endearing. It is told by a child, perhaps prone to exaggeration and definitely prone to taking literally the things adults say. This might explain why when we first meet Gavin Highly, a very poor man, the narrator says he used to live in a rabbit hole where he would have kindly ferrets over for tea.
There is a health inspector, a man who seems to be able to go through keyholes, who is certain to find Gavin’s current abode is uninhabitable. Gavin has no money, so if he is forced to leave his home, who knows where he will go? The central conflict, then, shapes up: Gavin apparently has an extensive book collection, his treasures and pride that mean his life to him. He could sell the books and live off of the millions.
I’m afraid that’s as far as I can go in plot summary. The great thing about this story, though, isn’t necessarily the plot. It’s in the nature of the story-telling itself. The young narrator’s experience with this tale is wonderfully rendered: “I did not see anything that happened, but I know, I tell you, I know that it happened this way.”
Another great thing about the story is the sadness that the reader feels when the young narrator’s voice is stripped away and we understand what is really (or, at least, probably) happening to Gavin Highly.
I’m not sure where this one ranks against the other 2010 stories so far, but I know it would be towards the top for me.