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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. 

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