‘‘Souvenir’’ is one of the twelve longer stories published in Jayne Anne Phillips’s collection Black Tickets. The other fifteen stories in this collection are very short and are, appropriately, characterized as ‘‘short short stories.’’ Black Tickets was published in 1979 to widespread critical acclaim.
The protagonist of ‘‘Souvenir’’ is the adult daughter of a fifty-five year old mother who is diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain tumor. Kate’s mother is better able to face this terrible possibility with acceptance and calm than is Kate or her adult brother Robert. In this story, the younger woman struggles to come to terms with death, loss, and separation. Phillips presents Kate’s special efforts to maintain a close contact with her mother, even though, as the conversations and scenes between them reveal, she and her mother sometimes disagree. The reader learns, for example, that Kate sends her mother a Valentine’s Day card every year, except the year in which the events of this story take place, this year when her mother falls ill. By having Kate’s failure to fulfill this special gesture coincide with the year that her mother falls ill, Phillips points to the inevitable failure of, or, at least, inadequacy of, our attempts to overcome or avoid the pain of life’s separations.
‘‘Souvenir’’ is related by an omniscient narrator. This narration is occasionally supplanted by dialogue between characters. The story begins with the information that the story’s protagonist, Kate, has always sent her mother a Valentine’s Day card, timed to arrive precisely on the holiday. This year, however, Kate has forgotten until it is too late for a timely mailing. She waits until the evening of the holiday and telephones her mother instead. Their conversation provides insight into their professional lives and their relationship.
The next morning, Kate’s brother Robert phones to tell her that her mother is in the hospital. Kate flies to the hometown that Robert and her mother never left and meets her brother at the hospital. He insists that they keep from their mother the truth about her condition: that she suffers from a possibly malignant brain tumor and that the surgery itself may prove debilitating or fatal. Kate dislikes the deception, but...
(The entire section is 586 words.)