Fiction Writers Review: Nina Buckless on “Departure”

Here’s Nina Buckless, writing in appreciation of Nicholas Delbanco’s short story “Departure”:

If, as Aristotle says, “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies,” then it is through the love of philia, a fondness or an appreciation, that I can write of the love that I have for Nicholas Delbanco’s short story “Departure,” published in Five Points.

The triple-headed goddess Hecate was once highly revered by ancient Athenians. In his writings, Hesiod mentions that Zeus himself honored Hecate above all things mortal and immortal. Not even the stars could outshine her. Triple-bodied, Hecate was known as the guardian of crossroads, as well as associated with ghosts, the dead, and blessings upon family. Often depicted in art as a statuesque female holding three flaming torches, the goddess is one in being. Much like Hecate herself, “Departure” is triple-bodied, structured in this case as a triptych—a portrait of three distant siblings (Joanna, Claire, and David) on the day of discovering the news that their mother has died.

Also like Hecate, each sibling carries their own flame, their own light—torches, ignited and fueled by their mother, Alice, whose light has, at last, expired. In the story, Delbanco creates a portrait of a family via triangulation, with Alice at its center. Each section moves through the interior landscapes and the quotidian experiences of these characters as the day carries them up to the news of this passing and, at times, circles back before they know she is gone.

The story carries something deeper, too: familial secrets, isolation, and loneliness. It confronts how individuals are inevitably shaped by their intergenerational and personal histories, and asks important questions about the meaning of family, namely: How well do we know one another? How do dark secrets–and death–reshape a family across generations? And how might hidden knowledge brings dead memories to life? In the process, “Departure” leaves a reader with a haunted feeling, its insights suggesting that at times invisible forces can, in fact, connect family members–despite great distances and perhaps even against their wishes.

But beyond structure and suspense, a good story must speak intimately to its reader, and it must do so through a voice with its own breath. And in this case, through the voices of these three characters, we are offered a portrait in fragments, which collectively captures a family separated by the American landscape but held together by its matriarch.

Read the full article: Stories We Love: “Departure” by Nicholas Delbanco