Somebody Out There

Something Out There

by Nadine Gordimer
Viking, 203 pp., $15.95

Something Out There” is the title story of Nadine Gordimer’s new collection. Eighty-five pages of fictional mastery. Those who know this unsurpassed talent might say, once more, and not surprising. Note the way the author opens the plot, arranges the magical correspondences, finds the fixed points, and sets them in a broad open space where many drifting, always to the point, things can wander. Wander, turn up, just be there, and to the point, revealing but sideways—a certain speed and then off.

Something is out there. It, a large, mysterious shadow, is photographed by a young man with his new bar mitzvah camera. A Persian tabby and an old dachshund are found mauled and the newspapers speak of “wild animal in the plush Johannesburg suburbs.” The excitement is a “nice change from the usual sort of news, these days.” The usual sort is not a puzzle since this is South Africa.

And meanwhile, a few paragraphs on, something else is out there. Mr. Klopper, an Afrikaner rental agent, is closing a deal with a young English-speaking couple who seem to want a few months of run-down privacy and will settle for a decayed farm that has been on the agent’s books for three years. The vague young couple meets with Mr. Klopper and his wife in the Kloppers’ house, a plausible if self-conscious new place filled with modern appliances and crocheted slings for hanging plants and a mini-bar with stools covered in the skins of an impala—and, for all that, a suburban house retaining the gloom of the “long, gaunt passages” of the farmhouses of Klopper’s youth “when the Boers were a rural people.” The dark hallways in the anxious hopefulness of the house design return the Kloppers to history, give them a sort of genetic weight, a shading of melancholy generations behind the splitlevel lounge and the dried-flower-and-shell pictures.

Something out there is making a noise in the trees on the golf course where four doctors are looking for a lost ball; an illicit couple in a borrowed house hears a scuffling sound outside the window next to the bed. (A spy sent by his wife, or is it her husband ruining the afternoon?) Out there on the rented farm the couple is joined by two young black men dropped off by a van. The men give the proper signal and settle in with due accommodation to apartheid. (They will, if seen, pretend to be newly hired farmhands.) The four, saboteurs, begin their preparations by bricking up a shed to hold rifles, ammunition, detonators, and timing devices with which they will blow up a power station.

The shadow, the noise in the trees will turn out to be a lost baboon which will at last be found dead, although by that time its celebrity will have begun to fade because “some of the suburbs the creature had made uneasy were without electricity for eighteen hours” because of the explosion. “No one has ever found …

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