The story's first two-thirds documents a woman's fight against, and death by, cancer; and for all of that time the reader assumes that this is the ultimate subject of the story. Her name is Julia; we don't even realize she is married until she's nearly dead. At this point, the story enters the present tense, and Byron appears. He ushers her into death: "She smiled and water came out of her mouth and she died in his arms."
Can we take a moment to appreciate how strange that sentence is? Three independent clauses strung together without punctuation, offering each as the others' equal. It's a poet's sentence, with incredible balance and rhythm and economy.
From here on in, the story is Byron's. While Julia lies in state ("...the molded symmetrical smile began to pull to one side. It began to look like a smirk"), he reads her diaries and learns how rotten he was to her for all the years of their marriage. And the story ends this way:
For two years he was a grief Automat, crying unstoppably at the mention of her name. Then he remarried--a younger woman--and was a difficult husband.
I could do without the Automat, but that's otherwise what I would call a brilliant ending. It reminds me of Ann Beattie during her minimalist years--there's a refreshing confidence here that I haven't seen in a while. "We don't need to go through all that denoument, do we?" he seems to be asking us. "No, we don't, thanks then." And the transfer of point of view from Julia to Byron is similarly unfussy--she dies, he takes over.
There's a respect for the reader here that I admire and am flattered by--he knows we'll get it, he knows we don't need the window dressing. Everything is rendered in a lovely shorthand...it's delicate.
I would not mind some more New Yorker stories like this.