OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Two Of Those Women,  by Stacy Aumonier is a first person account of over-hearing a conversation in a continental hotel between two women. The narrator firstly dismisses the women, as a pair of a well-known type who are to be despised rather than pitied.

It is a story of twists and turns, and well worth reading without the ‘spoiler’ of this little essay.

The story takes place in the aftermath of the First World War – ten years after in fact, which might remind us how long the aftermaths of wars will be. The two are telling their stories to each other, but neither is really listening to the other. The narrator is idly eavesdropping. The younger woman has lost touch with the soldier-love of her life, the older has a son who has been seriously wounded, and is shell-shocked.

It is a clever story, in that we get both their tales, and the tale of him listening, and all three are credible. But, being the clever and observant readers we are, we do, probably because Aumonier wants us to, get an inkling of what is coming, and yes! Just as we hit the last page, it is confirmed: the lost lover is the damaged son, and the old woman has cottoned on to this fact. Without revealing it she invites the younger to accompany her to see said son, and the younger, not committing herself, leaves the scene.

What we have cleverly foreseen, however, is not a badly botched surprise ending. The revelation of the connection is not the end (and therefore the point) of the story. That, is the comment made, briefly, by the narrator, after the repetition of the title with a question mark after it. That comment is ‘God forgive me!’

What a tremendous way to end a story! For we realise that what we have been reading is not about the two women, but about the narrator. It is his, not so much misinterpretation of what he hears, as his misunderstanding of its importance, that is the burden of the story, and those last three words signal his moment of self realisation, and perhaps ours!

There’s a curious parallel to this story to be found in another of the same collection. It is not a parallel of content, but of structure. The story is Old Fags, and in it the very last part of the ending does something quite similar, in that he wrenches attention away from the two characters on which it has been focussed for the previous several pages, and returns it to a third, which has been prominent earlier in the story. In fact, it turns attention to the child of that character, and to the relationship between mother and child in general, a subject not really raised anywhere in the story before. Yet it is not a bolt on ending, any more than is that of Two of Those Women. It could even be argued that it is the entirely correct ending, in relation to what has gone before, but at a deeper level than an interest in the mere events of the story. The way in which Aumonier manages to turn his stories, so that we become aware of their deeper significance at the moment of their endings is a technique, skill, call it what you will, that I have not recognised in other writers – which may tell you more about me than about Aumonier. It is reminiscent of O Henry, to some extent, and is worked in several other stories to a greater or lesser degree.

I wonder if there is a parallel between writers and golfers, the latter of whom it is said are practising to achieve the perfect swing! Do writers attempt something similar, the perfection of a particular technique, tried again and again until they are satisfied with it?

Advertisements