Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "I'm the Meat You're the Knife" by Paul Theroux

Due to the fact that I'm way behind on my New Yorker fiction reviwing, this week I'm doing a special "Review-a-Day" series until I get caught up. Today's review comes from...

Issue: Oct. 7, 2013

Story: "I'm the Meat You're the Knife"

Author: Paul Theroux

Plot: A middle-aged writer, Jay Justus, comes back to his home town for his father's funeral,only to find his high school English teacher, Murray Cutler, is also terminally ill and days from death. Jay goes to visit the dying Cutler and we begin to see that there lies more beneath this relationship than meets the eye. It is apparent, though never explicitly stated, that Cutler used his position of authority to have an inappropriate relationship with Jay. Now a grown man, Jay visits the dying Cutler and tells him a series of suggestive stories until the dying man realizes who Jay is. Jay realizes he became a writer in order to escape the pain of having been taken advantage of by Cutler.

Review: I'm a big fan of Paul Theroux's short fiction. Why? Because his prose is simple and concise -- he lets the ideas and the plot carry the weight, not the "prettiness" of his writing. And his stories almost always have a dark twist, sexual under (or over) tones, and a satisfying emotional payoff or "button." Theroux's stories are very "filmic," if you will; structurally and image-wise you can always very easily imagine them taking place on the big screen.

This particular story carries with it a bit of "meta" significance, since the main character is a writer. Theroux does not always write about writers, but his characters are often artists. However, Theroux does not merely cast his main character as a writer out of laziness. No, in this story, Jay's profession is intimately connected to the plot.

Jay became a writer so that he could "write" himself out of the humiliating and painful situation of having been the target of his teacher's inappropriate advances. Jay became a writer so that he could experience the power he felt robbed-of as the victim of sexual abuse. Later, he uses this same story telling power to torment the dying Cutler as a way to pay him back.

On one face of it, this is a short, simple, straightforward story about a man exacting a cold and barely-comforting revenge in the only way he knows how, using the only weapon he has. On another face, this is a sort of homage to the power of "story" in our lives and the ways we use it. It is also a statement on storytellers and why certain people become storytellers: to claim and exercise a sort of power using the skills they have available to them. Another, different kind of man might have become a bully. Another might have absorbed himself in destroying companies. Who knows.

Not all writers are victims of sexual abuse, but we are all in love with Story and its power over our lives and the lives of others. Though we may come to writing for different reasons, we are united by that overpowering affinity.

Comments

sloopie72 said…
So glad you're writing a review a day - it's always nice to see one in my feed ;)

Karen

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…

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 …

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…