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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Friday, April 10, 2015

An act of betrayal and its consequences in current New Yorker story

Story by Chimamunda (?) Ngozi Adichie in current New Yorker, Apollo, set in Nigeria, has a few intriguing twists and has the virtue - rare these days - of truly being a short story, a literary work in prose that captures a single event, has consistency of voice and tone, and follows a narrative arc. n short: the story begins with the narrator, a single man of middle age, visiting his aging (80s or so) parents in their central Nigerian village - he visits every two weeks - and he remarks on the surprising changes in their personalities and appearance - how they have come over the years to resemble each other and how they have become much more spiritual and superstitious in late life - in fact, when younger, they were both academics and quite educated and prosperous by Nigerian standards of the day. They mention to him that a young man had been caught and almost executed on the spot for some petty thievery, and then they note that the young man many years ago was their "houseboy" for a period of time - and they doubt he will remember the houseboy - but of course he does and then the story jumps back to the past and tells a story of the bonding between the teenager and the 20ish houseboy, though both so different in prospects, and ultimately an act of betrayal in which the young narrator unjustly accuses the houseboy of pushing him down - and the peremptory parents fire the houseboy immediately, end of story. So we see how the two followed different courses, different fates - but that both were, in some way, wounded by that duplicity. The narrator never says so explicitly but there's the suggestion that he may be homosexual, and his bonding w/ the houseboy seemed at least on his part somewhat homoerotic (he nurses the houseboy through an eye disease, called Apollo, and through that physical contact contracted the disease himself - which subtly hints of STDs - and the houseboy's coldness toward him after the illness suggests a sexual rebuff) and we suspect his loneliness in later life was colored or foretold in some way by this shameful incident. The casual lie and its long-term consequences seems a familiar theme but oddly I can think of only one example - Atonement - similar in that it's a class conflict that not a "master"-servant conflict. I wondered whether the first section - the narrator visiting his parents - was actually necessary for the story and decided it was not essential but added a significant richness to the story by giving a sharper idea of the lives into which these characters would grow and by establishing the Nigerian setting and that this is not a story about race conflict but about class conflict among black Nigerians.

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