>This isn’t one of my favorites. I like the language well enough and the protagonist Charlotte is interesting (if not fully formed), but the story seems too familiar. Charlotte’s parents have been divorced since she was a child (her mother was an actress, her father a neurologist). She is close to her father, though they are dissimilar, and after her mother’s death, while going through her papers, she discovers a secret. Almost from the moment the reader knows that there’s a secret she can guess what it is, and yet she hopes that she’ll be wrong. But she’s not and the rest of the story is what Charlotte will do with the information.
“Charlotte—that was the identity she had in any context relating to her mother—sifted through the envelopes. If her mother had had a personal life, it was not a material possession to be disposed of like garments taken on and off; a personal life can’t be “left to” a daughter, like a beneficiary in a will.”
This sort of thinking makes the story worthwhile, even if ultimately its outcome is too predictable.
May 21, 2007: “A Beneficiary” by Nadine Gordimer