“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” by Anthony Wallace c. 2018 (pages 39-47 in The Pushcart Prize XLII–originally published in the Southern Review)

A short story set in a restaurant and centered on a couple who appears to have a baby with them. The mother, who attracts attention for being both beautiful and demanding, serves as the center of a story that explores themes of privilege, beauty, and class.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “A well-dressed couple entered the lobby of the Hotel Saint-Dominique, the young woman first, pushing an expensive-looking pram, the muscles in her slender arms and legs taut with purpose” (39).
  • “Beauty of this magnitude is the greatest agony, thought the professor, ordering two glasses of Taittinger Brut. Beauty is no antidote to suffering. Quite the reverse . . . There is something cruel in that, in the very nature of things, that beauty kills, and likes to kill—the tiger, the most beautiful land animal in the world, and the deadliest, though he knew such thinking was clichéd or worse. Beauty destroys and devours so that the world may live on. That seemed less trite, but not by much” (40).
  • “She wasn’t happy that she’d had to wait for the champagne in order to begin her first course, and she was even less happy that the champagne had arrived in saucers instead of flutes—hadn’t she mentioned that to them the last time?—but she was working on being less critical” (41).
  • “She was not an American and did not understand the democratization of roles that was an important aspect of American life, that a gas station attendant, for example, would not think anything of initiating a personal conversation with anyone who might pull up” (41).
  • “And it surprised her also, on this day when she’d been so happy, so ready to enjoy life, so full of energy and vitality, that in this place where they dined so often, and were known so well, that they should be sent a waiter who did not know them, their likes and dislikes, that she should have to explain what she had explained all too often, that there must be a responsible person to stand next to the baby when they both went up to select the next course, which she was now ready to do, and she would have to call him over, wherever he was, and explain all this, and how could you explain all this and not lose the timing—in her view that was the whole experience of dining, the timing—and now it would be ruined, there was no saving it, they should go, why didn’t they just stay at home if this was going to be the result” (42).
  • “Dealing with the public can make one terribly cynical. The hostess, who had an MFA in screenwriting and who’d written two screenplays she was unable to sell, was just such a cynical product of the service industry. To her way of thinking, there were only two kinds of people in the world: those who’d had their screenplays optioned, and those who hadn’t” (45).
  • “After dinner they would take their secondhand pies into the living room and he would tell her the story of the couple and their unusual baby girl. But what he would not tell her, what she would find out or not, as time went on, is that he had seen true beauty and originality and had been forever changed by his encounter with them, though in the near term, as is always the case, it was not possible to say precisely how” (46).
  • “The pram lay on its side in the barroom, the back wheel slowly turning. Pieces of the doll lay scattered about in a way that suggested an important human truth without revealing it” (47).

About Kelsey Maki

writer and English professor
This entry was posted in fiction, sentences, short story, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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