Reader Response: Chapter Two (Antonya Nelson)

In an effort to better understand power struggle, crisis, and resolution within others’ work and my own, I am going to work to identify these elements in Antonya Nelson’s Chapter Two. Disclaimer: I may not fully get there in 500 words.

The foreground of this story provides Hil, a woman who routinely attends A.A. meetings despite the fact that she is not following the program. One of Hil’s peculiarities is that when it is her turn to share at meetings, she deflects by telling stories about a Waspish, perpetually drunk, older woman who lives in her neighborhood, named Bergeron Love. Within this structure, I see two power struggles; Hil feels powerful by talking about Bergeron rather than reflecting on her insubordination of the program, effectively continuing her streak of rebellion, and Bergeron holds a power over Hil by embracing her alcoholism unabashedly. It is probably because Hil is jealous of Bergeron’s open affair with alcohol that she berates her to different A.A. groups, neighbors, and family members, even when Bergeron is deceased.

Hil implies a surface crisis to the story, being that Bergeron is frequently intrusive, inappropriate and belligerent. Hil’s words and actions imply a different crisis, especially considering that she seems to enjoy Bergeron’s evening intrusion, and her story-telling tone is of a humorous nature. The crisis then, would perhaps be that Hil is struggling with where she wants to fall on the spectrum of ‘relationship with alcohol.’ Bergeron represents an extreme that seems to appeal to an inner desire of Hil’s. Hil herself choses to drink at what seems like a moderate level, though she goes through the A.A. meetings that correspond with people who, one would imagine, are trying to be sober. Hil seems to be focusing on the mini-crises of her neighbor in order to avoid the large crisis occurring in her own life.

An important stake that is brought to light would be the well-being of Hil’s son, Jeremy. It is also presumed that Hil has a job and helps her food-addict roommate Janine pay rent or a mortgage. Another element of this story would be Hil’s desire not to be “defined” by her “overwhelming weakness”—her addiction to drink. This desire then feeds into the power struggles and crises.

My amateur mind cannot come to a complete conclusion about the resolution of this story. Assuming the ideas that I identified as the power struggle(s) and crisis are in the realm of accurate, I find two ways to read the ending of Chapter Two. Either Hil’s recollection of Bergeron’s pitiful son trying to call his mother back into their house when she is on a drunken spree convinces her that she doesn’t want that for herself and her own son, and she therefore resolves to not become Bergeron—or, mainly influenced by mention of a pub on the route to/from her new A.A. meeting spot, Hil is having some sort of shared experience with Bergeron in the last sentence of the story.

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