Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Andrea is a real estate agent who, from all appearances, is a success at life. She has a good husband, financial security, many possessions, and a job in which she excels. Part of her success at selling real estate is her ability to use tricks to make a house desirable; for example, occasionally she brings her dog, Mondo, to a house if she believes the prospective buyers are dog lovers. Her most common and successful ploy is to bring her special bowl to the house, a bowl that she says is a paradox because it is both subtle and noticeable. She sets the bowl in a prominent place, usually on the coffee table. This bowl fits anywhere, under a Bonnard still life or on a Biedermeier table. Always, she leaves the bowl empty. It sits empty at home, too; she asks her husband not to drop his keys into it.
Over time, Andrea becomes more and more attached to her bowl. She feels that it brings her good luck and wishes she could thank it. Once, she accidentally leaves it at a house and panics; as she rushes back for it, she feels like a mother who has forgotten her child. She begins to dream about the bowl and becomes more possessive toward it. Her anxieties about the bowl grow. Although she knows she would never lose or harm it, she fears that it may be lost or damaged. She has never talked to her husband about the bowl, but as her possessive feelings toward it grow, so does her unwillingness to talk to him about any of her selling strategies or successes, for she...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
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‘‘Janus’’ opens with the line: ‘‘The bowl was perfect.’’ In the second paragraph, Beattie introduces the protagonist of the story, Andrea, a successful real-estate agent and owner of the bowl described in the first paragraph. The story is told completely from Andrea’s point of view with little dialogue or action.
When she shows homes to a prospective buyer, Andrea places the bowl in a prominent place. She believes that the bowl is particularly ‘‘wonderful’’ because ‘‘it was both noticeable and subtle.’’ The bowl is cream colored with a glowing glaze. Scattered across its surface are small flecks of color.
Andrea reports, ‘‘There were a few bits of color in it—tiny geometric flashes—and some of these were tinged with flecks of silver. They were as mysterious as cells seen under a microscope; it was difficult not to study them, because they shimmered, flashing for a split second, and then resumed their shape. Something about the colors and their random placement suggested motion.’’
At times, people who see the bowl call Andrea and want to know where the owners purchased it. She always pretends not to have noticed the bowl. Only Andrea’s husband seems unimpressed with it.
Andrea becomes convinced that the bowl is responsible for her success as a real estate agent. One day she forgets the bowl, and nearly panics in her attempt to retrieve it. She becomes obsessed and even...
(The entire section is 415 words.)