TiconderogaOnline, Issue 6, December 2005

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“The Grail” by David Carroll
“Summa Seltzer Missive” by Deborah Biancotti

In David Carroll’s “The Grail,” Graham Hart lives in a clinic after having been diagnosed with AIDS.  Graham has felt the development of the illness before it was diagnosed, and he remembers the exact moment at which he knew.  As weakness and pain increase, Graham is haunted by his memory of the day he contracted the illness and by other memories that go much, much farther in time. 

I must confess my perplexity with regard to “The Grail.”  I read the story over and over, and could not find the underlying narrative that I felt was there.  I have even done some little research, but either my knowledge of Scriptures and romances is not thorough enough, or Carroll did not convey his references and intentions clearly.  In short, I could not find the real story behind “The Grail.”  While I found the descriptions vivid and crudely intense, the overall meaning of “The Grail” remains a mystery to me.

Polly Daley, the protagonist of “Summa Seltzer Missive” by Deborah Biancotti, is a woman who expects nothing from life.  She has been working for decades in the mail room of a shipping company, she has no social life, and she doesn’t really care.  She is losing her hearing, but she doesn’t really care about that either: she doesn’t need it much.  The arrival of Caroline, the new girl in the mail room, seems more a nuisance than a novelty, but a new pair of shoes bought with Caroline will change Polly’s life forever.

Shoes are undoubtedly one of the most fascinating items of clothing in fiction.  Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, and many more stories use a new pair of shoes to signal a change.  Biancotti winks to fairy tales but without getting carried away: Polly’s shoes are not magical, yet they serve their purpose.  Polly’s change is dazzling and interesting.  My preference, however, stays with the old Polly, an engaging and unconventional character that Biancotti describes with a little irony and a lot of human warmth.