‘The Tryst’ by Joyce Carol Oates: Short Story Analysis
‘The Tryst’ is a post-modernist short story by highly acclaimed American writer, educationist, and winner of numerous awards, Joyce Carol Oates. ‘The Tryst’, which means keeping a private romantic rendezvous between lovers, is an ‘edge of your seat’ short story about two lovers, Annie and John. They misunderstand each other, take each other for granted, have wrong ideas about each other, all of which culminates disastrously with Annie slashing her right hand with John’s razor blade. She does this in his rich red-brick colonial style home. John Reddinger is a wealthy man who has a reputation, a wife, and an eleven-year-old daughter called Sally. He, however, enjoys the company of women, especially as lovers. He cheats on his wife and family in secret but makes the fatal mistake of being too fond of Annie, his mistress. She is an Art History major working in an Art Gallery. Where John is absentminded, brooding, and melancholic, Annie is vibrant, bold, foul, seductive, beautiful, young, but quite secretive in her way. However, from the text, one supposes that that is what attracts her to John the most. He falls in love with her to such an extent without telling her the whole truth about himself. He, too, does not find Annie’s correct mindset, which is that of the psychotic lover who worships money. When she realized how rich John was and how he could have provided her with so much, she decides to hurt herself almost fatally in his own house.
The story begins with a sex scene with Annie naked on the bed while brooding John is riding her. Annie giggles during sex and is quite talkative. She knows that she has power over men and can tune them to suit her convenience. However, she has no real conception of how wealthy John Reddinger is. All she knows is that he is relatively affluent but does not think he will allow her to borrow money from him. She has a rollicking affair with him and other men, including a mysterious sculptor. Annie has a murky past. We see her only through John’s eyes, a rich and selfish white male chauvinist pig. He wants his reputation to be clean as a sheet though he spends more time either being with Annie or thinking about her. While bedding his wife, he can only think about Annie, indicative that Annie has possessed his ideal of the beautiful and bold lover. He starts to miss her when she is not around. Notice in the story how the word ‘absentminded’ is repeated quite a bit concerning John. Indeed, he may be a rich man, probably an industrialist, but he is more of an inward-looking soul and a brooder by nature, always lost in his thoughts. However, he is selectively permeable. Never once does he mind cheating on his wife, who Oates describes as a woman who is equally as absentminded about her husband as he is of her and everything else in general. That is how the story begins, with an absentminded elder man having sex with a very young lady who does not know what a rich man she is having an affair with.
John is melancholic, and so is Annie. Oates’ language is somewhat ‘laid back’, and the characters too turn out to be very passive people, even when they are terrifyingly psychotic. In that faraway vague manner, they seem to speak alike that marks many of Oates short stories and other pieces. Characters penned in such a way wouldn’t normally be accepted, but Oates is different. Joyce Carol Oates has a penchant for creating lively situations with plain characters. Even though they do things that we usually expect, we feel we are reading something new. Her narrative skills are electric and edgy, keeping one on tenterhooks all the time. This story talks of a normal mistress getting psychotic when she realizes how rich her lover is, but Oates’s mastery of narrative skills makes her readable and enjoyable. Oates reminds one very much of the celebrated American author, letter writer, journal keeper and, of course, poet Sylvia Plath. While reading this particular piece, one sees a touch of another American novelist and literary personality, Flannery O’Connor. I have read all of them, and Oates’ writing style is an amalgamation of them, especially the secretive and almost mysterious side to their prose narrative abilities. I have all their works among my modest collection of 31,000 and more books. I live for books and with books. If you want to know more about my bookishly delicious life, you can check out my memoir on my blog’s products page. The memoir’s title is Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai. Do check it out. You’ll not regret it. It was a finalist in the 2020 DBW Awards in non-fiction; you can check my blog post for more information.
John and Annie are not telling each other the full truth. They tend to muse over something that is not true. However, John Reddinger is painting castles in the air about his sex goddess Annie. He misses her during one particular Christmas holiday season when he is busy with lunches, brunches, cocktail parties, dinners, et al. He has obligations, and so does she. She seems to be a person who lives a promiscuous life for mainly the money part of it. John is fascinated with her and can’t stop thinking about her body and nature whenever he is around her. There are a few points which I want to make in this regard:
- He never tells her anything about himself, not because he doesn’t want to but because he feels it is unnecessary since she doesn’t ask him.
- He doesn’t listen to her conversations with him; he loves her sensuality and boldness. He admires how she can sit naked at the kitchen table of her house, drinking coffee with him after sex. Well, I found that part rather silly (next, he’ll say he admires her because she doesn’t bathe with her clothes on), but it is characteristic of his patriarchal and indulgent side.
- He treats her like one of the paintings in the gallery she works at, and for him, she is an unfinished masterpiece. He loves the fact that her fingernails are dirty and that she can be vulgar, crude, rude, slangy, raw, and so much of the youthful vitality missing in his wife. Plus, she is good in bed.
- He accidentally sees her getting out of an expensive sports car with another man on New Year’s Day of the Holiday season. They were not together, but that doesn’t bother him. He has his life, and she has hers, but as long as she satisfied his innate desires when he wanted her to do so, it was fine with him. As I have mentioned before, he even goes to London and does not contact her despite seeing her on New Year’s Day.
- For some reason, Annie hints at the fact that she could get unnerved and do something tragic to spoil their relationship. Oates hints at it right in the beginning when during the first sex scene, Annie moans as John rides her that ‘she won’t survive this one’. It is indicative that she has been psychotic in the past about men, probably even slashed her wrist on purpose to get at John for not telling on his money.
- I like one particular line in the text where John says that he brought Annie to his home at last because it was there in his bed in his bedroom that he thought about her so much. His motives were decent enough; he wanted to lay a firm foundation for their airy relationship. Annie takes it badly. She misunderstands his motives, little realizing that John is one of those men who doesn’t analyze his motives before doing anything.
- John tells Annie only one secret about his life when he almost had a sexual encounter with a drag queen or rather a transwoman in Atlanta. He fled from them, but they abused him for not wanting to do anything with them. John finds this encounter to be a terrifying topic, making him quite an anti-LGBTQIA personality. By the way, if you are interested in LGBTQIA short stories, you can check out my book of award-winning short stories The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. You can find the book on the product page of my blog. They deal with social issues concerning the LGBTQIA-community.
Towards the end of the story titled ‘The Tryst’, John decides to welcome Annie a bit more into his world. He decides she is good enough to bring home while his little daughter Sally and his bridge-playing cold wife are out. Annie has drinks with John, has sex with him, and later enters his bathroom while he snores due to sleep apnea. She removes the razor blade from his razor and slashes her right hand, including the fingers. Oates does not say that she ‘cuts off’ her fingers, but Annie is now totally psychotic, and the image created through Oates exquisite prose is so real that one feels queasy, as queasy as John who panics but stops the blood loss with towels, gauze, adhesive tape, et al. He scolds her like a child as he would have reprimanded Sally, even while Annie acts worse than a beast, which may not be her fault but that of her psychotic condition. He says that she has ruined ‘his’ perfect picture of her and their lives. I’m sure that now, John would have to pay a lot to maintain Annie’s silence for the rest of his life if the story had to continue. The story ends with John back in the wealthy and affluent world, but not highly traumatized by this terrible accident that almost would and could ruin his reputation.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing ‘The Tryst’ by Joyce Carol Oates. She is one of my favorite American writers, and I have many short stories and novels penned by her in my modest library collection. I hope to either read or reread them soon. I plan to read and analyze mostly American writers for the next few weeks in keeping with the fact that a critical moment in that country’s election process is taking place. I hope to review as many American short story writers as I can.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in purchasing my books, you can check out the products page on my blog. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
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