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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Laura” is a story in three parts. The first part consists entirely of a conversation between Laura and her friend (or possibly relation) Amanda, in which Laura expresses her belief that once she has died—which she expects to happen in about three days—she will be reincarnated in some shape appropriate to her nature and her behavior in previous lives. She thinks that her present life has probably earned for her demotion to the status of an animal, but an attractive animal, such as an otter; and that her behavior as an otter may earn for her promotion back to a “primitive” rank of humanity, such as being “a little, brown unclothed Nubian boy.”

Amanda is reluctant to believe any of this, but the first part of Laura’s prediction comes true, in that she dies on time, indeed slightly early. In the second stage of the story, Amanda is brought to complete belief in Laura’s theory by the depredations of a marauding otter, which does exactly the kind of irritating things that Laura did when she was alive, and which seems to be conducting a vendetta against Amanda’s husband, Egbert, with human skill and foreknowledge. This stage ends with the killing of the otter by an imported pack of hounds, and Amanda’s collapse from nervous prostration—evidently caused by her guilt at having taken part in a kind of murder.

The third stage of the story functions almost as a coda. Amanda has been taken on a holiday to Egypt and has recovered, now dismissing the otter episode as mere coincidence. Then she hears her husband yelling in rage at some malignant prankster who, like Laura and the otter, knows exactly how to irritate him most. Who is the culprit? “A little beast of a naked brown Nubian boy.” With that Amanda relapses.

In a sense, the center of the story is Amanda’s growing conviction, which the reader is invited to share. She moves from utter doubt of Laura’s theory (in itself mildly preposterous), to fear that it may be true, to total and crippling...

(The entire section is 534 words.)