‘Words and Things’ by Jon Raymond

If Jon Raymond is widely known at all, it is thanks to his collaborative work with the filmmaker Kelly Reichhardt. Reichhardt’s first two films, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, were based on stories in Raymond’s Livability, and Raymond wrote the screenplay for Reichhardt’s neo-Western gem Meek’s Cutoff. In ‘Words and Things’, Raymond traces the development of a relationship between an art critic, David, and a practising artist named Jen — a relationship that starts off fraught, blossoms into romance, and then begins to collapse. What’s special about the story is not its depiction of the relationship itself, but the way the dynamics between the two characters play out via the incompatibilities between their chosen art forms: “words” for David, “things” for Jen. The drama rises steadily as the two characters think they have found a common language in which to communicate, only to understand that they can’t really reach one another after all, and the final pages of the story bring them to a point of artistic unity but interpersonal distance. Jen arrives home after an event at a gallery where David was also in attendance. There’s a message on her answering machine. She listens to it and hears David’s voice, David’s words, describing Jen’s physical presence in the gallery, while he was watching her from across the room. “It was strange how David’s words had waited for her like that,” Raymond writes, “how they had been preserved in the telephone like actual objects with weight and texture.” Then the machine clicks off. Then there’s silence. Then there’s just the sound of the world around Jen, a world without David’s presence, but with his words able to be summoned up again at the touch of a finger.

From Livability, Bloomsbury 2009