The New Yorker Reader: “Soldier’s Joy”, by Antonya Nelson

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01/15/2009 4:45 PM |

With a book in each hand, in the way I had planned.

This is a nicely layered story in the usual middle-class-white-people-and-their-infidelities vein, but do the gender politics strike you as at all retrograde?

The title — one of those throwaway-explains-it-all titles — has to do with male solitude, husbands retreating into private lairs (like an old boyfriend’s arrested-development treehouse) and various substances, and remaining unreachable. And, presumably, unfaithful, white women anguish over infidelities considered and enacted. Our protagonist refuses to engage her (old-enough-to-be-her-father, significantly) husband in his competitive flirting games, and is genuinely bruised by betrayal, and by women who’re more brazen about the whole thing.

This story’s structured on a web of parallels, so that it’s a rather enveloping experience, and the psychology seems credible. But does it seem that there’s a certain amount of inevitability to it?