Julian Barnes’s narrator in “Complicity” (The New Yorker, Oct. 19, 2009) is a man who recently got divorced and who tells the story in a chatty, freewheeling tone. Through a doctor friend of his, he meets a female doctor and a relationship may be hatching between them. The narrator wonders obsessively about her, focusing his curiosity on tactile impressions such as the kind of gloves she may wear. We get very few details about her (we don’t find out her name, for instance). The narrator goes to a movie with her; then they go out to dinner. At dinner, their hands touch. With that touch, the story ends.
It’s an interesting story. In fact, messy is the first word that comes to mind, but messy is not always a bad thing. In this case, it’s shouldn’t be counted as a virtue. Note how the story starts like a fable of sorts (notice the repeated “When I was” structure of the first three paragraphs). We get the sense there is a reason why this is being told to a particular person, but this is never made explicit; I was hoping it would be, as it would make the kind of carefree and spotty recollection more understandable. There are some nice brushstrokes in terms of the situations and the sense impressions described. But aside from that, it’s a forgettable story.