Ending at the Beginning: the Ebb and Flow of “the Littoral Zone”

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Date Submitted: 09/23/2010 12:21 AM

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. Every story has a beginning and an end- but it is the ambiguity of where the real beginning and end of Jonathon and Ruby’s story lie(s) within Andrea Barrett’s “The Littoral Zone” that serves to highlight just how much they (who?!) lost and how easily the lost it. Barrett begins her story 15 years after the characters begin theirs, at the end of what the reader is shown. The story then starts to waver, ebbing and flowing between the “then” and “now.” It ends at the beginning of their relationship.

The characters’ lives are divided, by Ruby, into “three different epochs;” before they met, during the subsequent dissolution of their respective marriages, and the years they have spent together since then. Like the tide itself, the story’s narrative travels back and forth, between the beginning- Jonathon and Ruby’s time together on the island- and the end, when they are stuck together, reliving early days, afraid to define just who made the first move- afraid to cast blame. It is this constant motion of back and froth that underlines the characters’ unhappiness and sense of loss. They are neither able to remain wholly in the present, nor are they able to revisit the past for too long.

When the story ends, not with the characters proclaiming undying love for each other, nor with them admitting and owning up to the mistake they both perceive but are unwilling to admit, but at the absolute beginning of the end of their previous happiness with Ruby putting the library to order and sweeping up the remains of a glass the broke in their passion, Barrett shows just how easily they let that happiness go. In choosing to leave(let) this stand as the end, Barrett makes the point painfully clear. Had she ended with the pair of lovers stepping off the boat to face their families, guilty after their tryst, their sense of loss would have been subdued, or even nonexistent. Conversely, if she’d chosen to have the story play out in a linear fashion (boy meets...