Evie (Six Shorts, 3/6)
This is now the third short story in the Six Shorts anthology, which I started to talk about a couple of days ago. It’s called “Evie,” and it was written by Sarah Hall. It’s probably the most thought-provoking of all the stories in the anthology. We are led along in a way that is both luscious and cunning.
The story begins when Evie, who is married to a man called Alex, arrives home and starts eating a large chocolate bar. This puzzles Alex, since Evie is not fond of sweets, but what the hell. This continues during the next few days, and Evie starts adding a whole lot of alcohol to her routine. Then comes the sex.
Evie develops a sexual appetite that she has never had before. She looks at Alex with an “unboundaried gesture.” (Great description.) She watches porn. She entices Alex into a wide array of postures and desires. Reluctant at first, Alex plays along. She even asks him to invite their friend Richard to their house for a threesome. This makes Alex cringe and pause: “he knew too that there was a line, over which, if they passed, there was no coming back. The dynamic would always be changed; they would be beyond themselves.” So it goes. By this point, the story has already become an erotic story, with irrepressibly carnal language.
Please skip this paragraph if you haven’t read “Evie” because I’m going to spoil the story for you. Right when the narrative is at its most erotic, with a drowsy and spent Alex watching intermittent scenes of Evie having sex with Richard, Evie breaks down into convulsions. Bile, alcohol, and spit ooze out of her mouth. At the hospital, we find out what was really happening: a brain tumor has disrupted Evie’s behavior. This is a masterful stroke from Sarah Hall. She has made us accomplices of the salacious spectacle put on by Evie. Like Alex, we may have been reluctant at first, but by the time we learn about the tumor we have been led through page after page of explicit sexual scenes. Our acquiescent silence has inevitably turned us into voyeurs. We thought we were watching Evie at her freest. We were watching the tumor acting out. We should’ve pitied her. Instead, we have come to share Alex’s guilty pleasure, which surfaces at the end, as he reflects on the night spent with Evie and Richard: “he thought of it, often, more often than he should.”
No way we can ignore Evie’s name, especially in a story in which Evie convinces Alex to follow her lead into a luxuriant, lustful, and, sure, sinful life. Hall might even be making a theological point: is she to blame for what happened when she was victimized by a disease that atrophied her free will? How often don’t we, as a society, blame people for decisions that are ultimately beyond their control? It’s a clever touch by the author.
One thing I do think was unnecessary in “Evie” was a section—grafted onto the story about a third of the way in—that starts with “He had never really loved his wife.” It is pure backstory. It is interesting, sure, but it breaks the onward march of the story to tell us how Evie and Alex met, how Alex felt about her, how they married. Interesting, as I said, but it should have been weaved into the story without having to interrupt the narrative.
Still, I wonder why “Evie” wasn’t chosen for the award. For what it’s worth, it gets my vote.