"Barcelona," an Afterword
By Jasmina Odor
The story “Barcelona” is a sequel to a story I wrote some years before it, “Peanuts.” “Peanuts” is told in the first person from the perspective of Millie, the mother in the story, who, content with the apparent idyll of her life, observes her teenage daughter, Amanda, with much admiration; but there is also Dan, accused of fraud at the end, and Earl, Amanda’s new unsatisfactory boyfriend. “Barcelona” developed because, for one thing, the voice of Millie persisted, and for another, because I saw how her admiration could develop into something crippling for Amanda.
One of the editors of TNQ said that “Barcelona” is ‘a story about the oppressiveness of love,’ and it was conceived indeed as that. It is what I was thinking about at the
time of writing, how heavy love can be, how paralyzing its needs and expectations, and how much it can damage if it is not keen; but also, of the anguish of the person whose love is failing or inadequate. Parental and sexual love seem especially powerful in this regard, and the story became about these two, the parent’s love and the lover’s love, intensely focused on one person, who buckles under them.
It is one of the stories I had the hardest time writing and completing, and it had many shapes before it became what it is now. After weeks of working on it in Millie’s voice, I spent several more rewriting it in the voice of Amanda. Finally it came as a third person narrative, entering the minds of nearly all the characters. I was trying to get at the nuances of the dynamics between everyone, of the kind of complicated system of interconnected relationships and desires that develops in families, in people living close to each other for long periods of time. The third person voice can get at several angles, and perhaps, in this case, allow for finer sympathy for all.
I spent a week in Barcelona in the summer of 2009, when the story was about halfway through. That’s how the city Amanda gets away to became Barcelona. I thought of the place in fragments of sensory impressions, mostly, sort of the way both Amanda and Millie do in the story—a smell, a sound (the sound of the corrugated metal doors coming down over store fronts at closing time). The possibility of a new self that comes with Barcelona is an attractive possibility for Amanda, I think, though the loss of the old and the familiar is also frightening.
At the time of writing, I was reading one of Mavis Gallant’s two novels, Green Water, Green Sky (a part of which appears as a short story, “August”), and it entered what I was writing—in it too there is an eager, manipulative mother, a well-meaning, honest lover, and a daughter on the brink, rejecting both of them in the end and going mad. The characters are remarkable—the mother, Bonnie, has dragged the daughter all over Europe (they are Americans); she gives herself another ‘five good years,’ every five years, starting at thirtyseven. Bob, who marries Bonnie’s daughter Florence, observes of her near the end that “Nothing remained of the person he had once seen in the far table of the darkcafé in Cannes, elbows on table, reading a book.”