“Jack” and “Ursula” by Francis Wyndham

imageHow someone who is not really part of your life can be such a large part of your life.

Francis Wyndham won the latest round in my little tournament of short stories, defeating two stories from African Writing Today.  It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get around to writing this post–I’ve forgotten the African stories completely.  I do remember that I liked them, but even as I read them I knew they would lose to Francis Wyndham.

He’s my new favorite.

Both stories feature the same narrator, a young man who does not tell us much about his own life.  Instead, the stories focus on largely absent relatives, Jack a step brother and Ursula an aunt.  Neither relative is much of a part of the narrator’s life, but each is someone whom he keeps close track of in a largely admiring way.  He lives a bit vicariously through each.

But it’s more than this.  Each relative is sort of a doppelgänger for the narrator, someone whom he might have been had his own life been a little different.  I think this is not unusual for relatives of the same generation.  Had you been born to your cousin’s parents instead of your own, would you have turned out like your cousin?

Of the two, I think “Ursula” is the better story, possibly because I would rather have Ursula as a relative than Jack.  Ursula leaves her well-off English family to move in with her African-American girlfriend, a singer/actress who lives in pre-war Harlem. The two stay together their entire lives, living the run-down glamorous life of near stars. They come into contact with the rich and famous though they never become quite rich and famous themselves.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Francis Wyndham advances to the final round where he will face off against Raymond Carver another of my new favorites.

It’s anybody’s game.