‘The Unfinished Novel’ by Valerie Martin

Maxwell is a vaguely successful novelist on a trip back to his hometown of New Orleans when he bumps into an old friend, Rita Richard (“It’s Ree-shard”), who attended the same writing programme in Vermont. Rita has fallen on hard times and is shockingly overweight, but she has a proposition for him… Martin writes so well about how the histories and destinies of two people can become locked in mortal battle—entangled to such a degree, in fact, that it is only (and precisely) the antagonist’s demise that will make possible the protagonist’s rise, or vice versa. As Gore Vidal said, “It is not enough to succeed; one’s best friend must fail.” This is one of the main themes of Martin’s writing. The same battle takes place in her award-winning novel Property and her superb follow-up The Confessions of Edward Day. Martin is one of my favourite writers—she never puts a foot wrong—and I dare you to read this story and not squirm and flinch at its honesty in how badly we can treat our fellow travellers.

In The Unfinished Novel and other stories, Phoenix, 2006