‘The Mary’ by J. Robert Lennon

100 tiny stories in this collection, most doing the work of a far larger piece by some less skilful writer. In ‘The Mary’, which doesn’t even cover a page, a young narrator tells how one spring he made a thing of his daily back-and-forth walk to a “menial office job”, enjoying looking into backyards and “imagining the lives of the people whose houses I passed”. One garden has a large “weatherbeaten” statue of the Virgin Mary, on an outside table, and so our walking worker begins to imagine the kind of family who would have such an ornament: “pious in a rough-edged practical way, unconcerned with the trappings of high-minded, pompous religiosity”. When summer comes, he is shocked to see the statue has been moved in favour of a picnic umbrella and beer cans, then suddenly he realises he has been seeing a Virgin Mary where there has only been a sunshade all along. The sense of shocked readjustment is rendered. His single moment’s sense of the scales falling from his eyes extends to the “humiliating waste of time” at his work, too: “It was not long before I quit”. Perfect modern American Chekhov moment, there. 

Published in Pieces for the Left Hand, Granta, 2005

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