After reading just a couple of stories by John L’Heureux, I’m now always very excited to see his work show up in the magazine. He is about to turn 84, and I only started hearing about him a few years ago when The New Yorker published one of his stories, “Three Short Moments in a Long Life.” I like L’Heureux’s calm, direct style as he explores the strangeness of life’s journeys.
I’m very curious about “The Rise and Rise of Annie Clark.” For one, here is a white man in his 80s writing about women’s experience. This is perilous territory, and rightly so. It begins
Annie Clark is a modern woman. It’s 1950, smack in the middle of the century, and she knows that the Second Great War is over and women were the real winners. Everywhere, women are taking charge of their lives. But Annie is Catholic, so she has to go slow.
Today, for instance, she is being extra patient with this young waitress — Patsy P. — who is stout and clumsy and may be new to the job. Annie is waiting for dessert, apple pie with cheese, and she figures they must be baking the pie fresh, because it’s taking forever. Finally, the girl brings the pie and shoves it in front of Annie and heads off without a word. Annie looks at the speck of cheese on her plate and immediately says, “Miss,” but the girl keeps going, so Annie raises her napkin in the air and says loudly, “Miss!” Everybody turns to look at Annie except the waitress. She’s gone. After several minutes, she comes back from wherever she’s been hiding.
“Miss,” Annie says, the voice of endurance. “What is this, please?”
“It’s what you ordered.”
“No. I ordered apple pie with cheese.”
“That’s what you’ve got,” the girl says, staring beyond Annie at a future without people like this.
Annie is about to say, “Bring me a slice of cheese big enough for me to see!,” when suddenly she is struck by how much the girl resembles her as she was at twenty. Patsy P. is unattractive, with bad skin, and she is running to fat already, so nobody notices her now and nobody ever will, except to take advantage of her. It was that way for Annie, too. In her teens, she used to joke that she was Cinderella, but without the fairy godmother. She’s been taken advantage of always. Even in the convent. Faced now with Patsy P. in all her unloveliness, Annie is moved nearly to tears at her own life.
She manages, nonetheless, to as for — and get — a larger piece of cheese.
Does L’Heureux pull it off? I think that’s a very compelling opening section, and I’m curious to see how the rest of the piece plays out.
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