In March, The Paris Review launched The Art of Distance, a newsletter highlighting unlocked archive pieces that resonate with the staff of the magazine, quarantine-appropriate writing on the Daily, resources from our peer organizations, and more. Read Emily Nemens’s introductory letter here, and find the latest unlocked archive selection below.
“Below, we offer the fourth and final installment of ‘Marie,’ by Edward P. Jones, originally published in the Review in 1992. Over the past month, we’ve read along as Jones explores the frustrations of government bureaucracy, the balm of friendship, and the consequences of a strong, open-palmed slap. The story examines what happens when society overlooks and underappreciates the elderly, and what can come to pass when those same elders are acknowledged and embraced. I will hold on to the lines that closed last week’s installment of ‘Marie’ for a long time: ‘She thought that she was hungry and thirsty, but the more she looked at the dead man and the sleeping woman, the more she realized that what she felt was a sense of loss.’ So many have felt a sense of loss this year; that grief can take on a more visceral sensation, an emptiness or need. But I will also remember Jones’s recollection of what inspired him to write ‘Marie’ and the other stories of his first collection, Lost in the City. In his Art of Fiction interview, he explains that after grad school, he moved to Northern Virginia and all but stopped writing. ‘I just went back to living my life, you know, but I was thinking about the stories. I felt, partly, that I wasn’t really ready or able to do them. Then, in the late eighties, two guys died whom I had worked with … They had both wanted to be writers. And I thought, Here I am, still alive, in good health … It seemed a shame to continue like that, so I started working on the stories.’ I don’t posit that every loss can encourage someone to take up a torch—life’s correlation is nowhere near that neat. But I don’t want to forget that the two can exist alongside one another, loss and inspiration, the missed opportunity and the realized one. With that, enjoy the conclusion of ‘Marie,’ and have a safe week.” —EN
Two days later, the Social Security people sent her a letter, again signed by John Smith, telling her to come to them one week hence. There was nothing in the letter about the slap, no threat to cut off her SSI payments because of what she had done. Indeed, it was the same sort of letter John Smith usually sent. She called the number at the top of the letter, and the woman who handled her case told her that Mr. White would be expecting her on the day and time stated in the letter. Still, she suspected the Social Security people were planning something for her, something at the very least that would be humiliating. And, right up until the day before the appointment, she continued calling to confirm that it was okay to come in. Often, the person she spoke to after the switchboard woman and before the woman handling her case was Vernelle. “Social Security Administration. This is Vernelle Wise. May I help you?” And each time Marie heard the receptionist identify herself she wanted to apologize. “I whatn’t raised that way,” she wanted to tell the woman. Read More