April 28: “Ants” by Jessica Treat

Hey there, Story366! Coming at you tonight with a selection from an older book—from 2000—one I found recently at a bookstore here in town, Not a Chance by Jessica Treat. I am FB friends with Jessica and I’ve read her stories before, and I like the press that put her book out, FC2, so it was easy to grab it and go. Really, since Story366 began, I’m not sure if there’s a story collection I wouldn’t pick up—still over two hundred days to go—but still, I see Not a Chance as a find.

Writers on FC2 tend to fall on the more experimental side—innovative, they would say—and if you think of the authors in their stable—people like Michael Martone, Lance Olsen, and Lucy Corin—it’s not hard guess their aesthetic. It’s not like any of those writers are all that comparable, but each of them seems to be pushing the limits of fiction forward, and if I scavenged, I might even be able to find that very goal in their mission statement. From the stories I’ve read in Not a Chance, I can see that Treat fits right in.

I read a few stories from Not a Chance and see a different type of story in each selection. The first story, “Dead End,” is an epistolary, written by a scorned letter, informing her ex of an assassin she’s hired to kill him. Another, “Nicaraguan Birds,” is the most traditional of the three, and chronicles the infatuation an American woman has for a revolutionary woman for whom she’s translating various texts (as in writings, not little phone messages). The story I’m writing about, though, “Ants,” which has stayed with me more than the others, even though I read it first (it’s the lead story in the book).

“Ants” is about a confused guy named Marc, a guy who engages in an affair with his much-older tennis coach, Georges, when he’s still a young man, maybe not quite old enough for Georges to be messing around with. At first, Marc hates Georges, thinks he’s picking on him, and avoids him when he sees him in public (they live in a small village in France, by the way, if you couldn’t tell). Then, for some reason, it just clicks, and the two spend years together, are inseparable.

Only, it’s not paradise. As attached as they are to each other, there’s problems. Firstly, they bicker constantly, more like those stereotypical older couples who do so to pass the time, engaging in barbs that are as clever as they are cruel. Two, Georges has a girlfriend, a girlfriend that he eventually plans to marry. Marc spends a good party of the early story knowing this, so when Georges finally breaks down and tells him, he already knows, causing a catastrophic fight, leading to Georges leaving Marc on the side of the road. The two never speak again, though Marc spots Georges several times, an emotional strain that forces him to leave the country. The continent. The hemisphere.

Marc settles in Mexico—quite the departure—a country in which Marc knows nobody and doesn’t speak the language. This turns out to be a metaphor, because while in Mexico, surviving, he falls for a woman, Valerie, another territory in which he knows nothing about. Valerie wants to be friends—besties—but when Marc’s pursuit persists, she refers him to a psychologist. Not exactly the romantic gesture Marc has sought.

“Ants” is more than just the story of a confused boy, young man, and man, searching for love, for sexual identity, for his place in the world, though it is that at it’s core. There are a lot of other choices that Treat makes to make the story interesting. It’s told in numbered sections, something Treat does in other stories, and it’s narrated by Caroline, who introduces Marc in the first line as her boyfriend, meaning the whole thing is a stylized monologue, a story she’s telling, for what reason, we don’t know, only that she’s Marc’s future girlfriend and knows his sordid history. Maybe that’s just Treat’s way of giving the story resolution. And then there’s the ants, bookending the narrative, showing up in the first and last scene, something Caroline relays. Like Caroline, the ants don’t show up anywhere else in the story.

I like “Ants” for its tragic love story, but also for how Jessica Treat tells it, engaging it from a variety of angles. It’s an engaging story, as are all the pieces in Not a Chance I had the chance to read. There’s even a novella in the middle of the book, which is cool and experimental in itself—who puts out a novella-and-stories collection and puts the novella in the middle?! Crazy, right? But seriously, Treat’s a good story writer. Glad I came across her book.

Jessica Treat