Fiction Fix: “Land Divers” by Claire Messud


Have you consulted the Flavorpill food pyramid lately? You’ll notice that we recommend a weekly dose of Fiction Fix as an essential part of your healthy cultural diet. How come? Well, you may not have time for novels, but short stories are like Flintstones vitamins: quick, fun, and good for you! Read this one, and don’t forget to grab a lollipop on your way out.

The New York Review of Books has its third annual fiction issue out this week, and it contains a new story by Claire Messud, authoress of 2006’s much-lauded The Emperor’s Children and wife of New Yorker uber-critic James Wood. In “Land Divers,” Messud leaves behind the Ivy League flaneurs of her novel for an Australian family on vacation.

The story begins with a suburban jewelry theft. (Messud is about as highbrow as they come, which is why it unsettles us so that the robbery immediately reminded us of The Real Housewives of New Jersey reunion, when Caroline Manzo lamented her stolen engagement ring. Oh well.) Sisters Cissy and Noddy worry about the thief, and worry more when the policeman who investigates is not exactly hot on the trail:

He did not seem particularly impressed by their sleuthing—by the telling placement of the topaz ring in the bedroom carpet, or Noddy’s momentous discovery of a large muddy footprint in the bushes beneath the balcony. The children, whose ideas of detective work came from Agatha Christie, had been sure that he would measure it, or take a cast of it, recognizing that it was the vital clue; but he merely nodded and stroked his limp, silky mustache with his forefinger.

The story progresses to New Hebrides, the site of the family’s vacation and, according to Wikipedia, a colonial name for Vanuatu. There, Cissy and Noddy watch the land divers of the story’s title, a local coming-of-age custom that turns out not to be the most disconcerting part of the trip. When they get back, they do uncover some jewelry, but by then, things have changed, and “as Cissy pointed out to Noddy many, many years later, Mummy never once wore that ring again.” It’s a very subtle story, one that we suspect is part of a larger narrative, mostly because we’re not quite sure we got it as is. Still, worth reading and thinking about. Check out the full story here.

[via Paper Cuts]