This story can be found in the December 14, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.
This review can also be read at The Mookse and the Gripes.
First Line: "In the damp late spring of 1985, Jelly picked up the handset of her pink plastic Trimline phone and the dial tone hummed in her ear."
Last Line: "But she cried as she sealed the envelope, because for a moment she thought she might have gone a different way."
When I was a little girl, my parents had Reader's Digest Condensed books on a cheap metal shelf, that bowed in the middle under the weight of partial stories. I am always reticent about pieces pulled from a larger work - they usually feel flat and leave me disappointed.
This time, however, not only did I enjoy this piece on its own, I am looking forward to reading the whole when it comes out next year. I want more, but not because something was lacking here. Rather, this tale was so complete that there must be more to discover about Jelly. There must be a further ending that answers the ending we find here.
"Jelly" is how the narrator addresses the protagonist, a woman named Nicole. And as the story begins, I am brought into a Doris Day-like film but with real true, non-comedic seduction. Jelly lures and controls men through a "pink plastic Trimline phone". She knows what she is doing - how long a conversation should last, how to listen to what the man is saying on the other end of the line, how to hear what he truly wants her to hear yet isn't saying. She is in control. That is, until she dials Jack's number.
For the first time, Jelly finds the intimate distance of the phone to be too much. The phone is, indeed, "a weapon of intimacy". The con artist finds herself conned by love itself. But this isn't THE TWIST. There's more. And when Dana Spiotta dropped it down in front me, I was truly surprised. For it wasn't unbelievable, but I was unprepared. I was lured in by the seduction of minute and gorgeous details, unabashed storytelling - lulled by the process of the con and the process of fiction. I was caught unawares.
I cannot stop thinking about this piece and I cannot soften the affect it had on my heart. This is not a condensed book, I assure you. Like Jack, I fell for Jelly's enticements, and am anxious to see more of her.