I just came across “Lavande,” a highly complex but subtle story by Ann Beattie, on Granta. The narrator is a wife and mother who has spent years watching her daughter’s self-destructive behavior. While in Rome with her husband, the narrator encounters the parents of a man to whom her daughter had briefly been engaged. She becomes fast friends with the mother of the boy, only to discover that this other woman is not who she claims to be. Beautiful story. Here’s the opening:
Some time ago, when my husband went to stay at the American Academy in Rome in order to do research, I accompanied him because I had never seen the Roman Forum. I had a book Harold had given me for my birthday that showed how the ruins looked in the present day, and each page also had its own transparent sheet with drawings that filled in what was missing, or completed the fragments that remained, so you could see what the scene had looked like in ancient times. It wasn’t so much that I cared about the Forum; in retrospect, I wonder whether Rome itself hadn’t seemed like a magical place where my eye could fill in layers of complexity—where I could walk the streets, daily performing my personal magic act.