“A for Alone”
by Curtis Sittenfeld
from the November 2, 2020 issue of The New Yorker

I feel the same trepidation venturing into a new Curtis Sittenfeld story as I felt a few weeks ago when Lorrie Moore’s “Face Time” went up: I do not know if I can do topical fiction right now (for the record, commenters on Moore’s story assured potential readers that it was worthwhile, and not just because it addressed dying on the other side of Face Time). Sittenfeld is the athor of American Wife and Rodham, two alternate takes on prior First Ladies; learning from the interview with Willing Davidson that “A for Alone” features Mike Pence . . . I just don’t know if I can do that right now.

Sittenfeld’s story is set in 2017, so it might have enough separation from the present moment. Irene, the central character, has an art installation inspired by Pence’s rule that a married man not eat alone with another woman.

For her art, Irene has gone out to eat with many married men, all for art. At lunch, she asks them questions. Here is how the story begins:

Irene’s medium, the one in which she has exhibited at galleries, is textiles, but for “Interrogating Graham/Pence” she decides to use Polaroid photos and off-white Tintoretto paper. Even though the questions will be the same for all the men, she handwrites them in black ink, because the contrast of her consistent handwriting with the men’s varied handwriting will create a dialogue in which she is established as the interrogator. Before her lunch with Eddie Walsh, she writes:

Date

Name

Age

Profession

When, prior to lunch today, did you last spend time alone with a woman who is not your wife?

Are you aware of the Modesto Manifesto, also known as the Billy Graham Rule, also known as the Mike Pence Rule?

If so, what is your opinion of this rule?

When I invited you to lunch, what was your reaction?

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