‘The Excursion’ by Joy Williams

We first see Jenny as a young girl:

She lies a little but it is not considered serious. Sometimes she forgets where she is. She is lost in a place that is not her childhood.

We move between seeing her with her loving and patient parents, to her adult life in a shadowy apartment with a strange older man. The structure powerfully enacts the lurch and teeter of memory. Child Jenny goes to her parents’ room after a nightmare, there are marigolds on the dresser; in the next paragraph, the man she is with “likes flowers, although he dislikes Jenny’s childishness” – the man puts “flowers between her breasts, between her legs”. A call of another mother to come and play remains unanswered because, in the following paragraph, Jenny is “propelled by sidereal energies. Loving, for her, will not be a free choosing of her destiny. It will be the discovery of the most fateful part of her”. 
I found, on returning to ‘The Excursion’ after five years or so, that it’s become more opaque to me, even though I’m still overwhelmed by its innovative structure. Was it always going to turn out like this for Jenny? There is something fated about the situation, that sits uneasily with the image of the young girl, sombre as she is. The contrast isn’t for sentimental effect. Williams seems to give Jenny an autonomy often lacking from stories where a child becomes a mirror of the parents’ anxieties, but this very consistency – the lies, the secret later life – is deeply unnerving.  

Published in Taking Care, Vintage Contemporaries, 1985. Also in The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories, Knopf, 2015

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