“Her Body And Other Parties” is such a rich collection that I’m reviewing it one story at a time, mostly to enhance my enjoyment and understanding of these stories.
“Inventory”, the second story in this collection, is about thirteen pages long and fine example of the fact that short stories, even ones as short as this are not literary snacks that you consume between novels. This story has a dense mass to it that lodged in my imagination, demanding attention and thought. I read it twice, not because I didn’t understand it the first time but because there is so much there that once just wasn’t enough to absorb it. I don’t think twice was either. I’ll be coming back to this one.
So what is it that has me so engaged?
I found the style of the storytelling hypnotic, It is presented as an inventory of encounters with always-nameless lovers: men and woman singly or in combinations. Each encounter starts with a sentence inventorying who was involved in addition to the narrator: “One girl.” “One boy, one girl”, “Two boys, one girl”. The next sentence often qualifies the inventory “One boy, one girl. My friends” or “Two boys, one girl. One of them my boyfriend.” Then there is a description of where the encounter took place: “We drank stolen wine coolers in my room.” or “His parents were out of town, so we threw a party at his house.” The sex and its attendant affection, ecstasy, disappointment, mess, betrayal, solace or regret are described with a rhythm that documents the moment neutrally but in a way that is neither sterile nor erotic but deeply human and often sad.
As the encounters passed I got caught up in trying to understand the pattern they were making, trying to discover the lesson being taught. There was no pattern except accumulated experience and more informed choice and no lessons being taught, just a life being lived.
Life is not lived in a vacuum and this life is lived against the background of the outbreak of a global pandemic that destroys most of the population. In other stories, the pandemic would BE the story. We’d have a valiant against-the-odds struggle between man and bacteria, end-of-the-world symbolism, violence. conflict and heroism. “Inventory” is not that story. Its focus stays firmly on the encounters the woman has. The pandemic appears in the death of partners or the change of circumstances and choices but it never takes centre stage. Curiously, perhaps, this makes the pandemic much more sinister and threatening.
By the end of the story, it seemed to me that our narrator, faced with the possible end of days, has inventoried her own life. So what does it mean that there are no names, not even the narrator’s own? Or that there are no encounters other than with lovers, however inept or opportunistic? Or that the narrator remains, always, fundamentally alone?
Answering those questions is the job of the reader. Asking them so that they demand an answer, or several answers is the job of the writer.