Wednesday, February 10, 2021

"Listener" from The Expendables by Antonya Nelson


Averill and Julia have recently moved from a farm town to Chicago where she's been given a big promotion. Averill is blind and has been since birth and Julia is concerned about how he will navigate the city. He's a stay-at-home husband and we never really learn why, but he cooks, cleans and seems fairly satisfied with his new life. Julia reads to him often and in doing this, notices a man in the window across from them listening to her read too. She is alternately fearful and interested in this Black man. 

We expect Julia to be the stronger partner, she being the sole support and one who is out on the world. Their marriage has flourished under this understanding. But things begin to change when Julia is the one who cannot adjust to their new life. Averill quickly makes a friend who shares his interest in trains. And when Averill takes a train trip with his new friend, we understand that he is the bedrock and she is the fragile one. Sight does not confer strength. 

"Listener" won the Nelson Algren award from the Chicago Tribune. And the collection won the Flannery O'Connor Award. It was published in 1990 and Ms. Nelson has published several more books since. 

One of the many things I love about short stories is that if you think you missed something (like why Averill doesn't work) you can reread it and find out. (Or not). 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 


George Kelley

Richard Robinson 


Margot Kinberg said...

Sounds like a really interesting look at the dynamics of that relationship, Patti. And fragility and strength is a fascinating prism for that.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Sounds interesting. I was just thinking that for a while I had pretty much read every short story collection I had in the house. But more and more keep turning up, either new collections from Crippen & Landru (like the new John Dickson Carr radio collection), or things I've picked up cheap on the Kindle (like the Fritz Leiber horror/fantasy/occasionally SF collection I am reading, SMOKE GHOST), books recommended by friends and/or reviewers (like the Richard Bausch you reviewed recently, SOMETHING IS OUT THERE, which I am also reading now), gifts from friends (just got WE LOVE ANDERSON COOPER by R. L. Maizes in the mail yesterday), books that sound interesting when other people mention them (recent Kindle pickups: V. L. Whitechurch, John Lutz, J. S. Fletcher), etc. I will never run out.

I've tried to read at least one short story a day since the summer of 1995, always making up the next day for the few days I missed (traveling or sick, generally). Since 2014, I have actually been keeping track of every story I've read. Over that period I have averaged just under TWO stories per day, (The last two years pulled my average down, but this year should get it back up to two a day, 730 a year.) There is a lot of good to great reading out there.

The Bausch collection has not been exactly what I expected - not that there's anything wrong with that - and the Leiber is more varied than the last of his collections I read.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Would love to see that list, Jeff.
It was good at that, Margot. Your expectations going in were subverted.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Unfortunately, it is in a couple of small notebooks. I lost my database when my last computer died and I couldn't get it back on the new one.

Here is the total of stories read by year:

2014 760
2015 789
2016 786
2017 820
2018 748
2019 612
2020 555

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't know if I could absorb that many short stories as much as I love them. I guess it only rounds off to two a day. Were they usually from the same writer or from different writers on a given day?

Jeff Meyerson said...

Some days if I was reading shorter stories, I might read more than one - several if they were very short - from one author. More likely it would be like today - one Fritz Leiber, then one Richard Bausch, or whoever I am reading then. If it is an anthology, of course, it is generally one story per author, so that problem doesn't arise. As I get to the end of a collection, I might read two or three if it means finishing the book, much like we tend to watch the last two episodes of a series on Netflix.

I keep a separate list at the back of the story book of books I finish, so I can see what i've read in a particular year. For instance, in 2018 I read 4 Ed Hoch collections and 6 O. Henry. In 2019, there were 5 more O. Henry collections and 4 edited by Lawrence Block, including the huge Manhunt collection.

Back in 2014, it was 5 Robert Silverberg collections plus another book he edited. That year I went through and added up total stories read by author. Silverberg led with 50, then Peter Orner with 36 (most very short) and Ron Carlson with 32.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And so eclectic as well. Amazing.

TracyK said...

Another book of short stories to add to my list to look for. I love the cover. The author is new to me.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I borrowed the one Nelson book the library had available online.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I do try. At one point (a couple of decades ago), I was reading almost 80% mysteries. I made a conscious decision to change up my reading.

Todd Mason said...

And I've managed to find the tale appeared initially in CHICAGO TRIBUNE in 1988...