On Wednesday, Joyland published “You Said ‘Always’” an excerpt from Ester Bloom’s novel-in-progress, The Sex Lives of Other People. In the story, which has the momentous feel of the novel’s opening, the narrator, Annie, gets dumped by her boyfriend after a night of sex, turned down by her soon-to-be ex-husband, disappointed by her sister on the phone, and felled by a bottle of wine. In short, Annie has a rough day.
The story gently pries at questions of adulthood, parenting, identity. After her rough day sends her on a reminiscing spiral, Annie reflects back to the abortion she had in college, and the recovery day she spent with her mother afterward:
We ate ice cream and watched old movies on cable together.
“Please don’t say anything to anyone,” I had said, during An Officer and a Gentleman.
“Of course not,” she had said. “It’s your business. Nobody else’s.”
It was clear that, for once, she thought I was doing the right thing. The first major life decision my mother believed in enough not to question or criticize was my decision not to become a mother myself. That is what you might call bittersweet.
From the excerpt, it looks like Bloom’s novel will continue to explore some of this bittersweetness as well as take Annie on a cross-country train journey. The story sounds like one to keep an eye out for, and with a title like The Sex Lives of Other People, that shouldn’t be hard to do.
It generally starts out as just a feeling—a nagging sensation that something larger is going on, that someone higher up is pulling strings. Then, before you can do anything further, you see it: you are in an Alice Munro story.
On Monday though, your ability to detect your Munrovian fate got a little bit easier when Eve Asher at The Toast collected some of the telltale signs in her post: “How to Tell If You Are in an Alice Munro Story.” Among the many indicators are:
Nothing has ever happened to you except one thing, decades ago.
You are having an affair with a married man. His sister knows, and hates you. She has volunteered to drive you back to town.
You have a conversation with a woman. It feels important, but you can’t figure out why. You marry her son.