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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.


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