Issue #112: Sir Fleeting

I’ve been a fan of Lauren Groff’s since her wondrous novel, The Monsters of Templeton, was published, so when a story of hers crossed my desk, I read it with great interest. I was not disappointed. “Sir Fleeting”is the story of a love affair never consummated–full of whimsy and humor and romance. The moment when Ancel de Chair appears, I found myself falling for him, just as our narrator does, with his impeccable manners and diamond tie pin. He is a fantasy, and when the story turns, and begins to weave reality into this magical web, I felt the same splash of cold that came over our poor Bergere. This is classic, old-fashioned storytelling at its best, and I’m looking forward to Lauren Groff’s collection of stories, Delicate, Edible Birds, which will be published in January 2009. To find out more about Lauren and read about how she wrote “Sir Fleeting,” visit our Q&A.

9 thoughts on “Issue #112: Sir Fleeting

  1. This was definitely a page-turner for me. I read it as soon as I opened it, which meant reading it while I walked the dog. The author captures something most of us have, the might-have-been lovers that orbit the outer regions of our personal lives, periodically come into view before slipping away again.

    The voice was excellent and I could visualize the narrator at each stage of her life. Ancel de Chair is vivid from the moment he walks on stage. Even the ex-husbands, brief as their stage time is, come across with great clarity. The yellow diamond stickpin, it goes without saying, is an excellent detail and device.

    Very well done.

    I do have one nit to pick, and that is the timing.

    Assuming the current action takes place in 2008, the granddaughter would have been born in 1990. To be born in 1990, her father would have to have been a teenager at the time of her birth, and a young one at that. The narrator marries her second husband in the late Sixties, and they are presumably married several years. Her husband was “struggling” in “those years” and the divorce is said to have happened “much later.” That pushes the end of the second marriage into the early to mid Seventies. Even if her “life of the gay divorcee” was contracted and she married and had a child right away, we’re still stuck in the mid Seventies. Very earlier for a father of a child born in 1990.

    This problem could have been resolved by making the grand-daughter a grand-niece, since it is well-established that the narrator has a sister.

  2. The passage of time in a solid sense did not occur to me as the abstract sense, with the narrator’s voice changing at the various stages of her life, were so substantial.

    What strikes me as so remarkable about Groff’s writing, in both The Monsters of Templeton and this story, is how assured she is in presenting characters of various ages and both genders, and how truly those characters ring.

    Great thanks to One Story for the early peek at Groff’s short story collection.

  3. I enjoyed the story even though I didn’t think much of the narrator. I understand that a lot of people would find her first honeymoon romantic because of her flirtation. But does anyone else think it’s a little shitty to do what she did, especially on her honeymoon? I think the narrator’s voice is true when she dismisses her husbands (accurate) suspicions and somehow finds a way to blame him for the failure of their marriage. She’s that kind of person. The ending felt deserved. Well done.

  4. I would agree with your moralistic problems with the narrator. This is not a woman without flaw. Women without flaws, however, don’t normally make for good fiction. Or, maybe I should say, don’t normally make good main characters.

  5. Now, I’m trying to think of anyone I know without flaws. Can’t think of anyone. There are people with flaws, and people who go to great lengths to pretend they have none.

  6. Agreed. For me, her flaws took the shine of any “romance” in the story. Which is fine. But it made it a different story for me than it might have for some others.

  7. Agreed. I actually don’t read it as a romance persay, though there are romantic elements. I read it as the narrator’s chronicle of one of those people who enter your lives and bother you on that chemical level, but who ultimately turn out to be duds.

  8. I know this is late, but I just finished reading this story. Prose was smooth but the story left me empty. The character of Ancel de Chair was so ephemeral that I couldn’t understand why the narrator, who seemed a very intelligent person, would be the least bit interested in him, let alone be obsessed by him for a lifetime. Also, I was thrown off by the cliched first image we encounter: “…naked trees with branches like grasping fingers…”. How did that one sneak by the editor?

  9. I thought this was very well done, too, and am inclined to ignore some of the story’s minor flaws because I enjoyed it so much. Concerning the branches’ likeness to “grasping fingers,” the diction and imagery at the story’s onset (which did seem trite upon first read) take on deeper meaning after the story is completed.

    The previous impressions of the narrator, I would say, are accurate and intended. Her flaws, perhaps dismissible and even romantic in her youth, solidify with time (and culminate, I think, in her rejection of Ancel’s offer). This is paralleled nicely by her rise to wealth and the increasing importance of her body/physical appearance. An incorporeal, whimsical quality about her turns into something material and “sour.”

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