Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Paranoia" by Shirley Jackson

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. But in every other way, I'm just like you...

Issue: Aug. 5, 2013

Story: "Paranoia"

Author: Shirley Jackson

Plot: A humble little office-worker type guy named Halloran Beresford -- in 1950s New York -- leaves his Manhattan office at 5:00 p.m. trying to get home as fast as possible to celebrate his wife's birthday with her. However, he soon develops the idea he's being followed by a man in a "light hat." Light hat-man seems to be around every corner, and Beresford becomes more and more frantic. Finally, he makes his way home, where in relief, he flops down in his favorite chair...only to find his paranoia has continued, as he is convinced his wife is working for the man in the light hat (or someone else who is out to get him).

Review: First off: Yes. This is that Shirley Jackson, author of "The Lottery" among other things. Like most high school students, I read "The Lottery" and, yes, it's little plot twist at the end really got me. I've never read another word written by Jackson until yesterday evening when I read this story. Obviously, she was a great success in her time, as her work was anthologized for millions of high school students to read, one of her stories even became (eventually) a film, and she's still getting into The New Yorker fifty years after her death. So, with all due respect to this fine, late author, I've got a kvetch to make about this story.

Frankly, it just pisses me off because there is literally NO major literary magazine that would publish this story today, if it were written by a no-name young author born in 1985 or whatever. Forget it. At best, this story is a creative writing class exercise: a sketch. The character is ill-formed, the situation implausible and trite, and the resolution non-existent. In other words, it's not even really story. Even as pure entertainment it doesn't fit the bill. There is no pay-off whatsoever. It's like being led by a trail of bread-crumbs to an crate of moldy clementines.

I'm not gonna rant for 1,000 more words about how unjust it is that shit like this gets into the NYer instead of good, new fiction. I don't have the time. But, I just don't understand the use of publishing stuff like this. My guess is Shirley Jackson kids needed help paying the property taxes on their vacation home in Cape Cod and just decided to "discover" this story among her "papers" and bestow it upon the world for a few thousand bucks or whatever you can gain monetarily from doling out a 50-year old, not very compelling story by a somewhat famous, dead author.

Please. Give me a break. You're telling me of all the thousands of people who are hopefully (but foolishly) submitting unsolicited fiction to the NYer, there wasn't a single person whose burgeoning writing career you could make (and I mean make) by publishing in your august publication? Not a one?

Bah. It's Friday afternoon, it's late summer and I'd rather be floating on my back in the pool, baking in the sunshine, instead of whining about who gets published in the NYer and why. See you next week.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…