Andrew Porter, "Azul"
Andrew Porter’s “Azul” (One Story 72, March 30, 2006) is a very good story. It was later published in Porter’s acclaimed short story collection The Theory of Light and Matter, and it’s no surprise it was chosen as one of the 100 most distinguished stories of 2007 in the BASS 2007 volume.
The story is narrated by Paul, a man who’s married to an English professor called Karen (she’s on her second marriage). They’re in their forties, and are childless because Paul is sterile. Paul’s condition put a strain on the marriage, but they chose to stay together. Years later, as a way of having an “adventure” or a “distraction,” they decide to host a foreign exchange student from Belize for a year. His name is Azul. Azul’s high school friends don’t know it, but Azul is gay, and Paul drives Azul regularly to meet his lover, Ramon Cruz. Paul is troubled by this, but Karen convinces him not to worry too much.
These moral qualms are constantly set aside during the story. Paul pinches off some weed from Azul’s private stash, instead of confronting Azul for having one. Karen and Azul go for drinks, and sometimes they drink a bit too much. When Azul breaks up with Ramon, Karen and Paul throw a party at home to cheer him up. They allow the kids to drink, and in the dark living room floor, Paul has “no doubt that there is much groping, if not worse” (22). Paul says something to Ramon that he shouldn’t have, and the party has a bloody ending. As the story closes, with paramedics on the scene, Paul says that he and Karen “finally turn around and look at what we’ve done” (28).
The rising tension is well handled. There are points where you see Paul slipping—what’s he doing winking to the teenagers who hold a tray of shots?—but it seems so harmless. Then the end hits you, and you share Paul’s realization that small omissions led to the messy conclusion.
There are other tensions, too. Karen appears to be about to lose her job to the dazzling intelligence of a 28-year-old upstart, an expert on Old English. She’s not even on tenure track after teaching for ten years. She’s afraid to finish the book that might get her on track.
We are not told how Karen’s story ends. But the tension is handled so well that I wasn’t disappointed when I didn’t find an ending that addressed those worries. We know that, with one careless slip after another, things turned into an avalanche. We saw it with Azul, and that casts an ominous shadow on Karen’s job. I also liked that something actually happened in the story, something chaotic and out of the ordinary. A very good story, indeed.
In the One Story interview, Porter says he took several years to complete this piece, while he usually takes a few weeks to write a “polished draft.”