Our hero, William, is introduced this way:
William was tall and thin and shy and awkward in school. His best social tool was that he played the piano, and so was recruited for school musicals, which placed him at rehearsals and cast parties with kids he would otherwise scarcely have known. He thought he would be either a pianist or a physicist, although he didn’t know anyone in Montana who did those things professionally.
Painfully shy William is in love with classmate Bridey, and we are first introduced to Bridey through William’s tender eyes:
Bridey had golden curls, like a Botticelli angel, and a face that didn’t go with them: a long, straight nose, dark eyes. She had a clear, bright mezzo-soprano voice and she wanted to be an actress. Her mother had left when Bridey was nine, and she had grown up with her father, a lawyer, who adored her. Bridey was confident, even a little vain, and she was good at school, except for math, which didn’t interest her.
Following the attacks on 9/11, Bridey’s father, a lawyer, receives a request from a deployed soldier for a double-proxy marriage and asks Bridey and William to stand in. William takes the responsibility seriously. Bridey approaches it flippantly.
Then, after high school, William goes off to Ohio to study music and Bridey goes off to Chicago to study dance. In Montana, the requests for double-proxy marriages continue to come in, so during school breaks, William and Bridey stand in for more double-proxy marriages. And, over time, their relationship changes.
Every time I read this story I cry a few tears. There is something incredibly touching about the vulnerability of William’s love for Bridey, and something deeply compelling about the falseness of Bridey’s bravado.
At the end of the story, I want to believe there is a happily ever after for William and Bridey—and I love that “The Proxy Marriage” leaves me with more questions than answers.
I first discovered this story on The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. Another of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett (read my review of The Dutch House), read “The Proxy Marriage” aloud and discussed her thoughts about it with the podcast host. This particular episode is really well done, and I highly recommend listening to it, even if—or perhaps especially if—you’ve already read “The Proxy Marriage” in print.
What about you, reader? Do you have a favorite short story? Do you, like me, love being able to read a complete story in one sitting? (Click here to see all the short stories I’ve reviewed in one place.)
Here with you,