Thursday, December 21, 2006


By Judy Budnitz
from The Best American NonRequired Reading 2006

I’m in love the Best American series. Our flaming hot love affair began three years ago with the 2003 edition of The Best American NonRequired Reading in a quaint little bookstore called Borders at Pentagon City. Since then I've branched out to the other editions in the series, particularly TBA Travel Writing, TBA Essays, and, most recently, TBA Science Writing, all of which I love. But nothing ever really quite compares to my first love, TBA NonRequired Reading. Judy Budnitz short story “Nadia” is one of the reasons why.

“Nadia” is about how the lies that we tell ourselves to hide from our true feelings can distort our point of view until we’ve reached a position in which we’re unable to recognize the truth in others and, least of all, in ourselves. It’s about the masks that we wear to hide from our loneliness, our disappointments, our depression, our pain, our insecurities, and all those other bleak emotions we’d rather not think about. The story’s narrator, whose name Budnitz never divulges (likely for stylistic reasons; the narrator doesn’t need a name because she is us and everybody), is largely driven by the former.

Despite her claims to altruism, it becomes apparent in the way that she constantly justifies her actions that she is motivated, not by her concern for her friend Joel or his new mail-order bride, but by her selfish need to alleviate her own loneliness. Not that that makes her a bad person but by the end of the story it’s apparent that it doesn’t necessarily make her a good or even safe person either. Instead, it’s made her jealous, conniving, vindictive, and evidently, to judge by the last scene and the fate of poor Nadia the mail-order bride, it’s also made her and her “friends” dangerous.

The one quibble that I may have with this story is that Nadia herself remains a bit of mystery. You never really understand her motives or even really those of Joel. We’re given only a picture of their relationship as seen through the eyes of the narrator who’s still in love in him. It would have been interesting, I think, to hear the story from Nadia’s and/or Joel’s point of view but, alas, such is the plight of short stories: so much story to tell, so little time.

1 comment:

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