March 26, 2012

"Chapter Two"

By Antonya Nelson
~4900 words

A woman at an A.A. meeting tells the story of an eccentric neighbor.

The third-person narration cleaves to the perspective of the main character, Hil, and the narrative follows a story-within-a-story structure. The inner narrative is the tale of Hil's neighbor, Bergeron Love, who, in Hil's account, shows up naked on her doorstep one evening. The zaniness of the situation and the quirkiness of Bergeron, "some composite of Miss Havisham, Norma Desmond, and Scarlett O'Hara," claim the center of this storyline. The outer narrative is the story of Hil: her reluctance to tell her own tale at the A.A. meeting and her manipulation of the details of Bergeron's story (such as hiding the fact that the latter is now dead). Indeed, Hil's unreliability as a narrator—both in the inner and outer stories—seems to be one focus of "Chapter Two":
Hil lied at the A.A. meetings. There she led a life of sobriety; there she had not had a drink for eleven months now. Soon she would reach her fictitious one-year mark. When she told Bergeron's story, she was at least telling the truth. But was it a story? Twenty years' worth of half-known information, neighborhood gossip. She'd told it at two different meetings, starting at two different places: the naked visitation, the phone call to the Child Protective Services.
The narrator goes on to explain that Hil could have told the story from a number of different starting points and that, eventually, she finds a new A.A. venue from which to tell a different version of the story.

"Chapter Two" is an interesting meditation on the power of storytelling to fill empty lives. Ultimately, however, both the inner and outer narratives are unsatisfying: the inner one because its truth value is undermined by the outer one, and the outer one because its dramatic value is eclipsed by the inner one. The result is a narrative structure that cannot bear its own weight. Additionally, for a story about storytelling, the language is unremarkable, and the characters inspire little sympathy.


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