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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

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…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …