(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator describes a bland and uneventful social gathering at the home of Marx and Kay Messemer, a young upwardly mobile couple who are proud of their newly acquired, completely refurbished apartment. Its wall-to-wall carpeting is graphite gray; its furniture is severely functional; and its walls are bare, except for a single painting. One of its few decorations is a leafless branch in a large glass vase. The effect reminds the narrator of the Italian artist Giorgio Chirico, whose surrealistic paintings of deserted city squares convey uncanny feelings of loneliness and melancholy.

The narrator, who admires his friend Marx, mentions that he considers such modest social gatherings to be significant in the development of a new society that is adapting to a changed environment. This comment is typical of the story’s ambiguity and understatement. The hosts and their guests actually seem inhibited, determined to avoid any topics of conversation that might cause embarrassment. The apartment itself serves as a neutral topic that helps them evade more awkward or controversial matters.

The narrator describes Marx as a connoisseur of cool jazz, whose entire apartment suggests “cool jazz converted into armchairs, carpets, lamps (or rather light-fittings), and pictures.” The Messemers boast about what they have achieved, spending much of the evening describing how they managed to get their place and how much time and thought have gone into its...

(The entire section is 423 words.)