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Chapter Two by Antonya Nelson

March 28, 2012

New Yorker fiction

An AA attendee, telling tales in lieu of confession, is the effective narrator of this week’s story (March 26th 2012, here). Hil tells of the evening her eccentric neighbour banged on her door stark naked and drunk. Bergeron Love was a lonely busybody living in faded gentility, who’s previous escapades had embarassed her son Allistair and caused her to fall out with her neighbours over allegations of, probably non-existent, child sex crimes. Her nudity and crudity embarrass Hil’s son Jeremy as well, until eventually she persuades Bergeron’s partner Boyd to take her home.

Five days later Bergeron died, but Hil carefully omitted this detail, which she felt would spoil the story, from the version she told her group. She saves that for her gay friend Joe, and maybe one day, for Chapter Two for the ex drinkers.

Nor does Hil reveal how she became a divorced alcoholic living with Jeremy and their morbidly obese friend Janine. We can presume that she too has caused her share of embarrassment, and imagine poor Jeremy growing up in their dysfunctional household. Joe’s boyfriend is a porn addict. Janine eats in secret and plays violent video games with Jeremy. Joe and Hil chose their AA group for its proximity to a hospital bar in the hope of meeting doctors during Hil’s, apparently modest, post meeting drinking sessions! Is she really an alcoholic?

Reading my summary, you’ll imagine the forced nonsense of a BBC docudrama, but Nelson is way better than that. Here’s life in all its complexity, believable, sympathetic and funny.

Jim Thornton

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