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CLAIRE WILKSHIRE 'Voice Is Everything': Reading Mavis Gallant's 'The Pegnitz Junction' Voice is everything. If I don't hear the voice, I can't write the story. One has to find the exact tone, and it has to hold from begilUling to end if it is to be true. Mavis Gallant Mavis Gallant has written plays, novels, and non-fiction, but the short story remains her most important genre. While it is impossible to characterize the entire body of any writer's work, Gallant's short fictions lend themselves to description more readily than some. Gallant is a writer's writer, which is to say that her stories tend to appeal to readers accustomed to reading with care; her stories are subtle - nuanced rather than exuberant, witty rather than comic; strong emotions and desires may be evoked, but they are evoked coolly, often from the perspective of a detached observer. Her characters, as is frequently noted, suffer various forms of alienation, often living or staying in foreign countries, speaking languages not their own - or, as is the case in 'The Pegnitz Junction,' always on their way home but never arriving. 'The Pegnitz Junction' (1973) is one of Gallant's most complex and challenging texts. The complexity and the challenges both arise from the sophisticated manipulation of voice and point of view. Narrative voices shift constantly in 'The Pegnitz Junction,' at times with a fluidity that renders their alternation barely perceptible, occasionally in such a manner as to disconcert or even to confuse the reader.l The skill with which these narrative modulations take place leads Danielle Schaub to characterize 'The Pegnitz Junction' as 'one of the richest examples of Mavis Gallant's polyphony' (234). Indeed, it is this polyphony, the strategic deployment of voices, that makes 'The Pegnitz Junction' one of Gallant's most intricate and densely textured fictions. Ithas been described as a novel (Davies, 70), a novella (Gallant and Hancock, 37; Besner, Light, 93), and a story (Gallant and Fabre, 97); but it was published in the collection of stories to which it 1 Ronald Hatch, for example, who in an insightful early essay pronounces 'The Pegnitz Junction' 'quite an extraordinary work,' 'was puzzled on first reading, not really understanding the increasing fragmentation, yet feeling strangely the sinister element behind even the most trivial event. .., By the end of the novella, so many stories have been introduced within stories that everything seems to be flying apart' (101). UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 69, NUMBER 4, FALL 2000 892 CLAIRE WILKSHIRE gave the title, and it is as story that it will be considered here. In any case, the ability of a work of fiction to sustainsuch a variety of voices appearing and disappearing, interrupting one another and then falling silent, constitutes one of the text's most compelling features. 'The Pegnitz Junction' is a story made up of stories2 - Christine, the protagonist, hears voices whose stories intrude relentlessly on her consciousness . Gallant begins with the story of Christine and Herbert and, through numerous interjections, broadens the scope ofthe narrative so that in the end it is at least as much about a period in German history as it is about one German couple, at least as much about telling as it is about the tale. 'The Pegnitz Junction' opens, with characteristic Gallant irony, at the beginning of the end of a holiday: Christine, just twenty-one, is returning to Germany with her lover, Herbert, ten years older than she, and his son, little Bert. This is a peculiarly static journey, though, marked not only by long periods of confinement in the overheated train compartment but also by apparently interminableinterruptions during which the characters wait - for another train to arrive, for a new destination to present itself, for something to happen. Christine is engaged to marry a theology student, and one might expect the narrative to centre on the choice she will presumably have to make between him and Herbert. (This choice is by implication a political as well as a romantic one: we know little of the theology student beyond the fact that Christine is reading his book of Bonhoeffer's essays - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran...


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