"Other Lives" by Francine Prose

10Feb05

I thought that Prose did a surprisingly excellent job of developing the four main characters in such a short story that is mostly anecdotal. And, even though the four main characters are adults, I liked the way that Prose infused all of them with a child-like wonder. In fact, the story itself has a very magical quality to it.

I particularly liked this passage about Claire’s crush on Raymond:

Claire has a crush on Raymond; at least that’s what she thinks it is. It’s not especially intense or very troublesome; it’s been going on a long time and she doesn’t expect it to change. If anything did change, it would probably disappear…She just likes him, that’s all. When it’s Raymond coming to dinner, she cooks and dresses with a little more care than she otherwise might, and spends the day remembering things to tell him which she promptly forgets.

Of the adults, Joey seems the most down-to-earth, the least interested in magical things. He is more practical, knowing the real names of things instead of inventing new constellations as Raymond does. Joey gets the children ready for bed while Dottie, Raymond and Claire ruminate on frivolous things. This fact might explain Claire’s attraction to Raymond, whose anecdote about Miranda’s illness and his night on the beach captures his sense of wonder.

I also particularly liked the idea of Claire saving her story about discovering the busted tomatoes and the shampoo bottle for Raymond, “so it wouldn’t be just a story she told before.” There is something special about assembling the language to recount an event for the first time. While it may not be as polished as the third or fourth time one tells the story, it has….well, more of a magical quality.

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