“The bowl was perfect.” This was the view of the protagonist Andrea in the short story “Janus” by Ann Beattie. Andrea’s world also seems to be complete; yet, too often what appears to the eye may not be the reality beneath the surface.
Andrea has a successful career as a real estate agency. To all appearances, her marriage seemed normal with financial security and no problems. On the other hand, Andrea appears a bit unhappy. Something is just not right.
The story centers around an ordinary bowl that Andrea loves. She uses in her open houses to draw attention to certain spots in the house. To her, the bowl was an enigma. It gave the impression of having a life of its own.
Something about the colors and their random placement suggested motion. …it seemed to glow no matter what light it was placed in.
Andrea’s life seems to revolve around the bowl. Surprisingly, Andrea attributes part of her success at selling her homes to the bowl. A real estate salesman uses tricks to draw attention to the highlights of the home and to distract away from the negative parts to convince the buyer that the house is special. She brings in pets and moves plants into the dark areas of houses, to allow for the appearance of light. However, her bowl is the main tool for tricking customers into being intrigued by a home.
‘Why not, in a world where people set plants where they did not belong, so that visitors touring a house would be fooled into thinking that darker corners got sunlight—a world full of tricks?’
Tricks are not necessary when a person's life is filled with truth. Selling a house is one thing, but living a life with another person should not require trickery.
Andrea’s husband noticed the bowl one day. He looked at it and smiled. He always urged her to buy things to make up for the years when they had not money. He said the bowl was pretty and turned away. They used to discuss her properties that she was selling; however, now they discussed little or nothing.
There had to be more to the bowl than just a piece of pottery. One of Andrea’s fears was that the bowl would be broken. She worried that an accident would happen.
Finally, the protagonist reveals the importance of the bowl. When she was attending a craft show with her lover, he had bought the bowl for her. He had bought her other things; but the bowl was her favorite. The lover indicted her one day that she was too slow to know what she really wanted. Why should she continue on in her marriage if she really loved him? She could not have it both ways. Andrea did nothing, so the lover made the decision and broke it off.
The bowl represented not a world of tricks but her tricks. She tried to avoid hurting the one that she loves and the one that she depends on. She had tricked three people: herself by thinking that the affair could continue with no one hurt; her husband with deceit of which he was not even aware; and her lover to whom she had made promises that she had not kept.
At night, Andrea’s loneliness fills her world. The bowl still seems perfect as the moonlight catches a glimpse of color. To Andrea, her lover’s bowl meant everything. There was no end in sight for Andrea’s hurt.