One of the unpleasant things about growing old (and this has often been noted, so it's not an original insight by any means) is that one more and more takes leave of old friends, of people one has "known" tangentially through books, plays, television. Writers whose work one has read and enjoyed become, in a sense, part of the family. And their death diminishes oneself.
I feel that way this morning as I read the news that Mavis Gallant has died. I discovered Gallant and her bleak, tonic short stories when I was a graduate student in Toronto. Reading the stories, which hop continents as her own tangled family history did, has always been, for me, like looking at one of Edward Hopper's paintings in which we have the feeling of dropping in (and inappropriately so) on the life of someone glimpsed through a window.
A glimpse tantalizing enough to make us want to know more, even as we realize that such knowing will forever be impossible, and that the person we've caught sight of in a single instant through a window has a life that will remain pellucid to herself and impossibly opaque to us, as we go about our business . . . . It takes real artistic skill to evoke such feelings in the kind of stories Mavis Gallant wrote.
May she rest in peace.
The photo of Mavis Gallant is from CBC Canada.