Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "The Breeze" by Joshua Ferris

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker; and weeks it reviews me...

Issue: Sept. 30, 2013

Story: The Breeze

Author: Joshua Ferris

Plot: A young Brooklyn couple try to capitalize on the perfect spring evening in New York, only to find themselves thwarted by the numerous daunting choices before them.

Review: An absolute "must-read." This is the kind of story that makes my self-appointed job as the New Yorker fiction section's vigilant guardian worthwhile. I read the fiction each week in the hopes of discovering just such a story.

What's so great about it? Through Ferris' lens, we see one simple evening refracted into a dozen different rays, a dozen different possibilities. The author manages to tell the story of this one evening in numerous different ways, exploring all the different ways this one evening could have played out -- pleasant and not so -- had this young Brooklyn couple made various choices differently.

What if they got out of the subway and instead of heading to Central Park, turned left and went to a stuffy hotel bar? What if they met friends at a beer garden? What if the friends stood them up at the beer garden and they took a cab back home, defeated? What if they shared a perfect evening in Central Park and made love in the falling dusk? However, Ferris does not merely write a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story. That would be too easy.

The beauty of this story is that, laced throughout all Ferris' rotations of the dial, his slightly varying permutations of this one evening, is one simple and unifying Upper Middle Class disease: the terrifying paralysis of CHOICE.

As the story begins, the woman in the couple sits atop her balcony sipping white wine and enjoying a nice early spring breeze. Not content to sit on her balcony, she feels she must "chase" the breeze. However, now she must make choices. Where-oh-where is the "perfect" spot to enjoy this evening? If they go to the park, they miss out on all the possibilities of a bar. If they go to a bar, it could end up being the wrong bar, and then they've missed out on the right bar and the park. This sort of "paralysis by analysis" is a common problem among a certain class of people without enough genuine things to worry about, and Ferris catches this nicely.

Ferris also taps into the peculiar kind of euphoria that can overtake a person -- specifically a New Yorker -- on that first balmy, pleasantly cool spring-ish evening after a brutal northeastern winter. Regardless, I think, of social class, it does inspire a certain mania, a certain desperate attempt seize the moment. In life as in this story, those desperate attempts almost always prove futile. There simply is no chasing the breeze; one must enjoy it while it lasts, and hope it comes again soon.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

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…