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Women & Men Chapter Discussions > 0267 the departed tenant

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message 1: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (last edited Sep 28, 2012 10:05AM) (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Discuss.

Originally published in The New Yorker (11/23/1981).

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

This might be my favourite section so far. The most resonating aspect of the novel for me is the way McElroy portrays human relationships amidst a metropolis like NYC. McElroy seems to suggest a fundamental discrepancy between the human need for rootedness and solidarity and the heavily individualised nature of the modern city. This chapter was incredibly moving for me.

message 3: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jonathan's deleted posts ::

Share it with your friends: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1981...

'It was a distance from her place, but he often walked home.' He is John, and he's walking home from his girlfriend Linda's apartment. John had been married before. His first wife is gone, destination unknown, possibly Heaven. She told him as he went out the door that they would talk when he returned, but when he got back she wasn't there. Her place is Linda's place, but she's about to get a new one. She's waiting for the tenant of that future apartment to get out and leave, she thinks he's going to New Mexico. She pokes fun at John when John walks home in the middle of the night instead of staying until breakfast. She jokingly asks him if he has a paper route. 'She [is] smart, in fact, she [is] artistic. She [has] a happy influence on him.'

The tenant of the place Linda is to move into leaves earlier than expected. She moves into the new building with the help of friends. The Departed Tenant calls and makes sure everything is okay, and it is. John spends a few nights at Linda's, then falls into his habit of leaving in the night. He misses the 'private landmarks' he used to pass on his way home, from an 'all-night cat' to a 'nasty drugstore'. The Departed Tenant continues to call with practical questions that should no longer concern him, like does she have trouble with the bathroom window closing? At a coffee shop he stops in on his way home, he suspects a patron of being The Departed Tenant, still in New York.

The couple fights about John's concern about his ex-(are they officially divorced?) wife, his guilt about his imagined responsibility for her leaving (he has said that 'he killed her'). They also fight about The Departed Tenant. Is Linda doing enough to discourage him from calling?

John finds some Polaroids of Linda, captured with 'flat accuracy that looked too accurate' while in her apartment.

Linda reveals to John that the tenant has visited Linda's apartment twice. He left a quilt the first time! The second time he took a hammer, well, it used to be his hammer, but he took a hammer and one of the Polaroids. John angrily leaves the apartment. She calls after him, "you creep". John, outside, sees the man he thinks is possibly The Departed Tenant (the man from the coffee shop) and follows him, thankfully doesn't catch up to him. John is eventually intercepted by Linda, who came down from the building, presumably because she didn't like how they were fighting right before John is to go to Houston for his job. It comes out that John took the Polaroid and Linda didn't know so she assumed TDT took it. They decide TDT is probably more harmless than they thought. Linda is still changing the locks.


Some comments:

As always, but I'm feeling it particularly now, I hate that I'm not able to capture how nuanced the emotional content is in this book. My summary, as I reread, sounds so glib, as I guess a summary must. To me, the content of this chapter is really that emotional nuance, McElroy's ability to capture the kind of roiling fight that couples have, moving from silly arguments like one over what direction a guitar is pointing on a sign, to arguments more seriously rooted.

I also am interested in the idea of 'personal landmarks', personal cities, personal realities, and these in constant change. I like the McElroy that shows how John sees a man's beard as making the man look older, right before John sees it as making the man look younger. And yet, though everything is shifting and reality is personal for us all, we still do communicate... I think McElroy is always pointing to this.

To simplify my summary I failed to mention Harry, but he has that 'full English mustache' so I have to mention him here to ask if he's possibly the mustached man in still life: sisters sharing information? We wait and see.

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