“The Rise and Rise of Annie Clark”
by John L’Heureux
from the October 8, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

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.

Please let us know your thoughts on the story below!

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By |2018-10-01T11:41:00+00:00October 1st, 2018|Categories: John L'Heureux, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. David October 1, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    I read three short stories today. This was the first one I read.
    .
    The second story I read was the first one in Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ Heads of the Colored People. It’s brilliant. The first two pages had me laughing out loud so much I had to stop a few times. As the story progressed we meet several compelling characters. The writing throughout is descriptively strong and in many places quite beautiful. From the odd humourous start, it develops quickly to a powerful emotional climax. I look forward to the rest of the stories in the book. Highly recommended.
    .
    The final story I read today was an old one by Deborah Eisenberg. It was well crafted and she has a strong ability to depict realistic characters. It was not clear to me where the story was trying to take the reader in the end, but it was still very good. I think I might try one of her less old stories next to see how it might compare.
    .
    Which brings me back to L’Heureux. I have previously only read his two most recent stories in The New Yorker and I didn’t really like either. As I read the author interview for this one I was very optimistic that I would like this story. The way he described and talked about Annie made her seem an interesting character to spend some time with. Then I read the story. It quickly felt to me like an episode of a bad 80’s or 90’s sitcom. The story was even helpfully divided into three sections so we know where the commercial breaks would go. It was a huge disappointment. But at least when I finished it, I still had two much better stories waiting for me before the day ended.

  2. Ken October 6, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    I found this quite ambiguous (and ambitious) and satisfying. The opening paragraph did kind of put me off with its authorial address setting the story in 1950 but then L’Heureux began to create a complex, interesting character. It’s hard, for me at least, to make up my mind about Annie. Certainly she does many questionable or even selfish things but I can’t help but sympathize with someone who wants to both rebel against Catholicism and its dogma, attitudes about birth control and divorce etc., while also feeling that it is what is deep inside her, what makes her who she is and something she should try to use to live a good life. Of course, she is indulgent and irritating in her quest, selfish even, yet there’s something I sympathize with, again, about any 1950s housewife rebelling in this way.

    I also love the way it ends. She really does have a miracle–it is clearly “really happening” since L’Heureux brings in a priest to witness it–yet does even this do any good. Can Catholicism be both “right” and also irrelevant to our secular, fallen world?

    One thing to quibble about: Jezebel was released in 1938. It seems unlikely it would still be playing in 1950. Also–films from that period don’t have end credits unless they possibly have a brief credit listing the actors, but those credits could hardly “roll.”

    I’m almost never one of the first to respond on this site. I’m very interested in what other people think.

    I was expecting to respond to a whole bunch of criticism, instead, this is the longest post I’ve written.

  3. Rosalind Kurzer October 7, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    John L’Heureux was an ordained Jesuit priest for 17 years. He is a practicing Catholic but claims he’s not getting any better at it. This story is full of the strange ways of faith. The struggle and mystery are here but I felt he missed the mark.
    His story Three Short Moments in a Long Life is terrific.

  4. Larry Bone October 18, 2018 at 11:45 pm

    I really like this story because to me it is infused somewhat with the singular independent spirit of Catholic women that I have seen within them in real life. These days anyone who is even quite faintly religious in how they live in any way is considered hopelessly, quirkily old school and entirely irrelevant today because their heyday was in the 1950s. There is a built in duality in this story that affirms Catholic values but also questions them. The kids (even Catholic school kids) are much much way more out of control these days and Annie walking out on her family kind of would seem to be what the husband would more likely do than the wife or Mom. Annie is willful and somewhat selfish but most women would not have four kids in a row after being a nun. Giving birth four times in succession seems completely the opposite of liberating. But telling her husband after that, that the prior regular loyal laying down he routinely expected would cease forthwith, is definitely a liberated move. There is this odd duality of Annie’s sister having two well-behaved children versus Annie’s four ill-behaved kids and how the sister has repeated miscarriages. And how one could see chronically misbehaving kids as a behavioral or cultural ongoing living miscarriage of sorts. There is also the duality of the sister having a good life and finding fault with Annie and Catholicism and yet Annie having somewhat of a difficult life yet not really questioning or ever really ever doubting her faith except maybe very slightly. In today’s world, within the never ending struggle between good and evil, cardinal sinning and ugly bad behavior is just so much more greatly admired than the slightest goodness or grace. Sometimes goodness and grace can be seen as possibly having snuck into 50s and 60s sitcoms so that some people think that’s the only place they ever existed because from today’s vantage point, all of that is entirely a theoretical fiction and people were never really ever like that in real life or if there were, they were stupid, weak and hopeless victims. This story might seem so bland and predictable but it gently proposes and discusses the strengths and incongruities of being a practicing Catholic woman. This story animates or brings to life the diverse and sometimes conflicting elements of Catholic religious influence. I espcially liked the generous acknowledgement and understanding that Annie brought to the young somewhat heavy waitress who shorts her on the cheese. There is the duality of the cheese seeming to assume more importance than the actual slice of pie. If the pie represents life and the cheese represents the good little things one got out of life than Annie is demanding more than a smattering of goodness, joy and happiness be provided to her within her life (and with her slice of pie). Her levitation in one way could be interpreted as God saying, “I hear you, Annie.” And she is temporarily “raised up” as a grace or reward for her faith. L’Heureux poses quite a bit in this story if it is looked at closely but within a nonflashy easy gentle sort of writing style. Other stories of his might be better, but this one is a little gem whose content concerns the existence of genderal aspects of religious thought (simply expressed) that are rarely if ever written about these days.

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