Tues Paris Reading Rec: Mavis Gallant, “Rue de Lille” (THE COLLECTED STORIES)

Mavis Gallant’s “Rue de Lille,” first published in the New Yorker in 1980, is only a few hundred words long—hardly two pages of the magazine. One of the main characters, Juliette, dies in the first sentence. The other, the narrator, her husband can hardly be troubled to tell us how he feels about her loss—about anything, really, other than that most Parisian of obsessions, real estate. Before the end of the first paragraph, we learn that Juliette’s apartment, which the narrator moved into after leaving his first wife, was irredeemably dark, and they’d frequently talked of moving, but never did: “Parisians seldom move until they’re driven to.” Play with that verb move a bit—move it from moving or relocating to feeling, being moved—and you have a key to this story. I was about to write “the key” but with Gallant, whose short stories of Paris often read like novels, even (or especially) if they’re especially short like this one, there is never just one bright key. Hers is the literature of multiplicity, of gesture, of the unspoken, of Paris as its own implacable character. Many of her stories are (to my eye) about waiting, but also about survival, and how surviving in Paris, as Gallant did for more than 60 years, not a few of them lean, is a triumph no matter how one's life appears to those on the outside (which would include, as it happens, the narrator of “Rue de Lille”). Don’t stop at one story. Read them all. And read her interviews, too; no one is more bracingly direct on the subject of writing, of love, of Paris.