Dialogue flood. This story, which otherwise has a conventional arc—and maybe that’s the reason Doctorow made this choice, in order to freshen it up—is all dialogue. No exposition, no narrative, not even dialogue tags. All dialogue, without a quotation mark in sight. (If ever there was a situation where quotation marks would get in the way, this would be it—the story would be littered with them.)
Husband finds out that Wife has noticed a man in an old car parked across the street. He’s a traditional guy and is partly jealous and partly protective of his wife. Later, he has a chance to confront the man in the car and he learns that the man used to live in their house. Husband isn’t impressed, but Wife, while Husband is at work, invites the man in and learns his life story—a poet and teacher, divorced, quit his job, has an adult daughter, is driving around the country. Husband still isn’t impressed and is upset with his wife for inviting the guy in. Husband has a point, but he’s being a jerk about it.
But they make up, apologize, and it starts over again. Eventually, the man in the car is arrested and has no one to call but the Wife, who—inevitably—invites him to stay while the police are examining his car. And then . . . but, no, you can read that for yourself.
So what’s it about? The key, it seems to me, is buried in the conversation Wife has with the old man. She doesn’t really get it, but he says: “It’s much like I suppose what a chronic invalid feels, or someone on the verge of dying, where the estrangement is protective, a way of abating the sense of the loss, the regret, and the desire to live is no longer important.” And the Wife, we sense, is also on the verge—not of dying, but of changing, of breaking out of the suburban bubble. She’s not happy—the man can see this, and the reader senses it—and her estrangement is protective.
While the ending feels neat and resolved, we understand that in reality nothing is resolved.
April 26, 2010: “Edgemont Drive” by E.L. Doctorow