“Naked, she twists in his arms to listen to a sound outside the door, a scratching, she freezes, listening; he’s startled by the beauty of her tense back, the raised shoulders, tilted head, there’s nothing, she turns to look at him, what does she see?”
I’ve done no research into this story, which is in the collection 40 Stories, so I am only guessing, but I imagine it is about Don’s third wife, the Danish woman who went mad and killed herself, whom he married only when he discovered she was pregnant with his first child (breaking his second wife Helen’s heart), and the breathy, comma-ridden, paratactic phrases indicate a kind of helter-skelter rush of associations, rather than a story’s narrative arc, while the quiet moment, “there’s nothing,” is isolated from its neighboring clauses only by commas, but it is more important than those commas would tell us (the list of fragments functions as a way of democratizing them—there is only that one semi-colon, before “he’s startled by the beauty of her tense back”); one might ask why that phrase merits separation by a semicolon, a punctuation mark Barthelme explicitly disdained, and the answer may be that it is a subtle, tender sliver of narration in the midst of other material that resists narrative’s push and pull.
Brian Kiteley, author of The River Gods
John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.