Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Find the Bad Guy" by Jeffrey Eugenides

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker...because the Supreme Leader told me it would aid my understanding of earthling culture. 

Issue: Nov. 18, 2013

Story: "Find the Bad Guy"

Plot: A middle aged man, Charlie, creeps on his recently estranged wife and his family as he recounts his struggles with alcoholism and the dissolution and ultimate failure of his marriage. He eventually confronts his family, breaking the TRO his wife has placed on him and comes close to some kind of reconciliation, but fails. 

Review: Reading and reviewing the short fiction in The New Yorker every week is a chore sometimes. Other times it opens literary doors by exposing me to new authors I was long (long) overdue to read on my own. This week falls into the latter category. Jeffrey Eugenides, where have you been all my life!

There's a lot to like in this story:

1.) Humor - This story's funny as hell while dealing with a really sad and heartbreaking subject -- the dissolution of a family -- and by the very person who's narrating the story. Eugenides seems to have a knack for adorning his stories with easily identifiable details and quirks that readers can recognize from their own lives, while also creating an interesting, out-of-the-ordinary character. 

2.) Tension - At the very beginning we learn Charlie is spying on his family from outside in the yard because his wife placed a TRO on him. What?? Yeah, now you've got my attention. This brings up all sorts of questions like: Why does he have a TRO against him? Will he violate it? Eugenides does a great job of weaving the current narrative and Charlie's back-story together into a crescendo. 

3.) It leaves you with something - Eugenides' voice is so funny and his character so desperately hopeless that you forget you're in the hands of a master writer, which, even after reading one of his stories I can recognize is the case. Though there is very little in the way of "resolution" or what in film they call a "button," this story somehow manages to leave you with a takeaway. It's not so much a lesson but a "feeling," something that resonates deep within us all. Essentially, that life is not black and white and that you can love someone and have a history with them and still not be able to live with them, and that you can change and grow apart from someone but certain scars never completely heal. That, my friends, is LIFE.

Thanks, J.E., for redeeming me after last week's slog of a story. 


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…