“The Trouble with Mrs. Blynn, the Trouble with the World,” by Patricia Highsmith
Appeared in the New Yorker on May 27th, 2002 (subscribers, read here); collected in Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith and elsewhere; read for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast by Yiyun Li
“Life is a long failure of understanding, Mrs. Palmer thought, a long mistaken shutting of the heart.”
I love it when a short story embodies its central idea as precisely as this does. Also, it’s possible I don’t give Highsmith enough credit for compassionate insight.
Edited to add: Unlike Li and apparently Treisman, I was rooting for Mrs. Palmer to give the brooch to Mrs. Blynn—the one kind thing she can do for someone who’s otherwise unreachable by kindness, a redemptive act. Though perhaps Li is right in thinking she would hate herself for it, and perhaps Treisman is right in saying it’s something that has to be done at the very end. If so, there is such a small window of opportunity for redemption, and of course Mrs. Palmer misses it. But surely not everyone misses it?