Short story: “The Long QT”

by look i have opinions

“The Long QT,” by Hilary Mantel

Appeared in The Guardian on October 19th, 2012 (read here)

1,487 words

I’m starting to wonder if this is a parody of something. When I first started reading, I was struck by the extreme conventionality of the subject matter and style. It’s almost the ideal example of a familiar literary short story: dull suburban marriage, would-be adulterer, high-quality prose, third person limited, psychological astuteness, detached wit.

The ending took me by surprise, but not because it was really unexpected. In this type of story, it’s inevitable that the main character’s complacence must be shattered like (even the metaphor is inevitable) a dropped glass. What surprised me was that the ending arrived so soon. The abruptness of it left me wondering if I had been the victim of a sly literary joke. You see, the story seems to say, it’s even in the title! You can see it coming a mile away, so why not get it over with now instead of 2,000 words later?

And I did feel I should have seen it coming:

A shock will do it, he said, or strong emotion, strong emotion of any sort. Sometimes, he said, people die laughing.

This last little irony struck me as recycled from a thousand other stories, though no one story in particular. I don’t know whether to admire this story for being such a perfect distillation of its type or look down on it for its pointlessness. Or laugh.