What our carpet looks like now
Last week, while taking breaks from proofreading, we tore out our vaguely brown office-grade carpeting in order to prepare the floor for the Italian marble we’re hoping to get sometime in the next month (which, we’d like to say, will look fantastic with the gold-plated light fixtures and doorknobs we’ve ordered, but that’s another story).
How we imagine the office will look when we're done remodeling
However, as we peeled back a corner of carpet, we noticed that a letter, addressed to the people of the future, had been placed under the unlovely mat of man-made fibers at some unknown point in time. Upon further inspection, we realized the handwriting belonged to Jessica Vozel, a former CR volunteer. She had tucked away the missive shortly before ending her tenure at the review. It appears Jessica wanted to ensure that the citizens of the future would not forget how haunting and beautiful Victoria Lancelotta’s story “Better” (issue 5.2) was. We’ve reproduced the letter here, and we plan to enshrine it under the first marble tile.
Jessica Vozel: Victoria Lancelotta’s “Better” is a story of would-be saviors. Its characters aim to save but fall short, thwarted by misinterpretation and missed opportunity. Susan, whose thoughts we follow as events unfold, cares for her husband’s aging alcoholic father, Raymond, a once-bright history professor whose slurred speech retains the air of intellectualism but not the substance. No one demands that Susan attend to the details required of a dying man—“the blood pressure monitor, the laundry and groceries, fragrance-free detergent and high-fiber cereals, salt-free seasonings, antibacterial wipes and disinfectant sprays.” In fact, her diligence annoys both her husband and his father. Like the waitress with whom Susan shares a moment of kinship, “there is nothing left in her to save,” and so she turns her attention to aiding even those who resent her help.
The story is both complicated and deepened when we learn that her husband Michael missed by minutes the opportunity to save his first wife. When he found her on the bathroom floor, bloodied by slit wrists, he futilely attempted CPR and wrapped towels around her wounds. In his efforts, “he did not consider the possibility that someone unhappy enough to do such a thing might not want to be saved.” The story closes at a poignant, skillfully crafted moment when Susan comes to understand what her husband did not.
In “Better,” the details of a life deteriorating are wrenchingly rendered. Lancelotta encourages the reader to find beauty even in tragic moments with her poetic prose. Her descriptions combine corrosion and death with light and vivid color: beside rusted razor blades and tubes of Bengay and Polident, Raymond has arranged “a row of women’s perfumes, the bottles old-fashioned, glass heavy and faceted and golden, capped with stoppers meant to look like birds and ribbons.” Similarly, the scene of Michael’s first wife’s suicide is described in light-infused terms: the white tile floor, her long pale hair, the silver band on her finger, the sunny street where they lived, the lemon candy in her pocket.
Ultimately, Lancelotta’s exquisite story redefines what it means to save and be saved, and explores lives made better in unexpected ways.