In Fay Weldon’s “sad story” the reader is introduced to a young 25 year old student who narrates her story of her love for her professor, Peter Piper. It takes place in a beautiful setting, the “pretty town” of Sarajevo, the town where the assassin Princip shot the Arch Duke and started the spark which lead to World War I. During their trip however, they are plagued by a storm that stretches from Moscow to London. Fay uses this sad and gloomy setting to set a specific tone throughout the story, and even the theme. Through Fay’s two characters and the gloomy setting Fay illustrates how in relationships both partners have to be sure they love the other, or else they both will be miserable
Throughout the story the story of Princip the assassin is told; fitting, since they are at the place where Princip did the deed that made him famous. The story of the narrator is almost an allegory, she is the assassin and his marriage is the Archduke. The narrator consulted her sister, Claire, on what to do about her very confusing situation, Claire responded, “You see a catch, go ahead and catch it! Go for it!” Immediately the next paragraph begins with, “Princip saw the archduke’s car parked outside, and he went for it.” She talks about Princip’s struggle, whether or not he should have “gone for it” or “gone home to his mother.” This is a parallel to her issues. She isn’t sure if she should destroy a marriage for her intentions, if she should take her “cue from fate” and unhinge her beloved professor’s marriage. Every time they mention the assassination of Franz Ferdinand the narrator never forget that Princip also killed his wife, and everyone always forgets the wife, her situation is no different. If she were to go for it, she would not only be killing the marriage of the Pipers, but destroying Mrs. Piper. Grieve and sorrow would be the end of Mrs. Piper.
The narrator does come to her senses and realized that destroying a marriage is not something that she can do. When asking Claire to advice, she confides in her her concern of destroying a marriage. Claire said that if she can get away with destroying a marriage, then it was meant to be destroyed. The narrator relates this to Princip’s shot starting World War I. Peter argued that had it not been for Princip, the war still would have happened. That Princip was not the main cause for the war. This bothers the narrator and she dwells on it for the remainder of her time with Peter, until she come to her senses. She responds to a question out of habit, “What are you thinking about?” “How much I love you.” This is the shot that assassinated all the narrator’s confusion. The narrator realized how much she had lied, and goes on to say that one can’t be certain that without Princip the war would still occur that something could have come to change to tension in the countries and leave them at rest. Something could come and make Peter and his wife back the way they used to be.
It wasn’t only narrator who Fay shows their struggle. The story opens with the backdrop of a “rain filled” Sarajevo. The storm is a big one; it reaches from their location of Sarajevo, to where Peter’s wife was in Cambridge, England. The storm hangs over Peter as a symbol of his confusion towards his situation with the narrator and his wife. Peter seems distracted, even making the interesting mistake of saying “Hungro-Austrian” instead of “Austro-Hungarian.” Not until the narrator decides to leave, is it that Fay show’s what Peter had been distracted with the entire time. While leaving the narrator kisses Peter’s forehead, and catches a whiff of chlorine. The chlorine is probably from his morning shower, but is understood to come from his thoughts of his who “permanently smelled like chlorine” due to her job at a pool.
Fay’s story is an interesting one that is strung on many levels. The most obvious and evident is setting on their minds, and how they, Peter and the narrator, are somewhere other than in Sarajevo, the narrator is assassinating the archduke, while Peter is with his wife in Cambridge. The second more subtle one is the enormous storm that was shared by Peter and his wife, showing his confusion. In the end however, the narrator becomes more mature and realizes that a marriage is not something you ruin unless both parties are certain that that is what they want, and Peter was stuck on his wife, he can never forget his wife.