“For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” was first published in The New Yorker, to critical acclaim. The story opens with a man receiving an invitation to a wedding that he would like to attend but cannot. He then proceeds to reminisce about being a soldier in England in 1944, taking a training course in Devon, England. Out walking at the end of the course, before shipping out to battle, he wanders the town and stumbles upon a children’s choir rehearsal. He is enchanted by the singing in general and in particular by a thirteen-year-old girl in the choir. He leaves the rehearsal and retreats to a tea shop. As he sits, the girl from the choir practice enters, accompanied by her younger brother, Charles, and their governess. The girl, the Esmé of the story, notices the narrator and comes over to sit with him.
They have a conversation that has a profound effect on the narrator. Esmé confides to him that both parents are dead—their father was slain in Northern Africa, and their mother has recently died. The narrator, who remains unnamed throughout this section of the story, notices a watch on Esmé’s wrist that is much too large for her; she confides that it was her father’s, given to her before his death. On discovering that the soldier is a writer, Esmé requests that he write a story for her, saying, “I prefer stories about squalor.” The soldier agrees to write her a story and pens his address for her. Esmé wishes him a safe journey and hopes that he comes back from the war “with all your faculties intact.”
The next section of the story, the...
(The entire section is 653 words.)