May 21, 2012

"The Proxy Marriage"

By Maile Meloy
~6900 words

A young man and woman in Montana, each secretly attracted to the other, perform a series of proxy weddings for soldiers stationed in Iraq.

The third-person perspective centers on William, a tall, awkward music student who falls in love with the conspicuously named Bridey Taylor but is too shy to tell her. Bridey's lawyer father receives a request from a soldier in Iraq to arrange a double-proxy wedding (according to the narrator, such weddings are legal only in the state of Montana). He asks Bridey and Willam to be the proxies, and they agree. They then go off to college but continue to perform proxy weddings when they return home during breaks. William is heartbroken when Bridey eventually marries another man, but it ends in divorce. Her true feelings for William, and his for her, are revealed at a final proxy wedding in which the bride and groom ask the proxies to kiss.

The strength of the story lies in its original plot and compelling characterization. The proxy weddings provide poignant glimpses into the lives of the secondary characters being married, some of whom, it is suggested, will never make it home or end up divorced if they do. Additionally, the weddings serve as an excellent means of building tension between the main characters and generating sympathy for William, for whom the ceremonies are excruciatingly ironic. Bridey comes across as something of a ditz but an effectively portrayed ditz.

One character who seems a bit superfluous is William's college girlfriend, Gillian. It is unclear what purpose she serves, except possibly for the sexual experience she provides for William:
He was grateful to Gillian, for her cold ambition and her warm company, and for the abundant sex, but it wasn't fair to let her think that he'd go to Tampa. And it wasn't her fault that she wasn't Bridey Taylor.
Gillian is quickly whisked away to Florida and never heard from again.

Another weakness, evident in the passage cited above, is a strong tendency to tell rather than show, especially regarding the emotions of the main character. The result is that the reader doesn't always sympathize with William as deeply as he might if he were allowed to experience things along with him:
But William wasn't gay. He was just absurdly, painfully in love with Bridey Taylor, who leaned on the piano and sang while he played, and he had no way of telling her. He was too shy to pursue other girls, even when the payoff seemed either likely or worth the agony. But he didn't tell his mother that. It was too humiliating. He just stammered an unconvincing denial.
In one paragraph we are told that William wan't gay, he was painfully in love, he was shy, it was too humiliating for him to reveal his feelings, and his denial was unconvincing. Some, if not all, of those details could be conveyed through body language or very select dialogue that would make the connection to the character seem more immediate. Unfortunately there are many such lost opportunities scattered throughout the narrative.

A final criticism concerns the ending: it's a bit too neat and tidy. Everything turns out fabulously and all tensions are resolved as William kisses Bridey (Bride-y, get it?) and weeps tears of joy. It seems more like a Harlequin romance at this point than a TNY story.

Interestingly, "The Proxy Marriage" is at least the third TNY story set in Montana within the past year, coming on the heels of Thomas McGuane's mediocre "A Prairie Girl" and Callan Wink's excellent "Dog Run Moon" (which predated this blog). Meloy's tale ranks somewhere between those two: a good story, propelled by an original plot, that could have been outstanding with greater control over the language and a more nuanced ending.


Reader poll: I found "The Proxy Marriage" to be ___.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Very informative blog and useful article. Please visit this site if you want more detail. 
    access Rapid Library in UK