Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Ba Baboon," by Thomas Pierce

Issue: June 2, 2014

Story: "Ba Baboon"

Author: Thomas Pierce

Review: Another first-time author to TGCB; I know nothing about this guy other than what I've learned in a brief (we're talking fruit-fly attention span level brief) internet search. I think he teaches at University of Virginia; not sure whether he has a book out and frankly it doesn't seem relevant to the story at hand, so...

I wasn't crazy about this piece but there are some redeeming qualities here. The setup is a little far-fetched and smells a bit too "quirky 90s George Saunders-y" if you ask me: an adult brother and sister end up trapped in the home of the sister's ex-lover, while attempting to steal a sex-tape of the sister and her lover, a tape which may or may not exist. They end up trapped by the lover's extremely aggressive dogs. 

The dynamic between the brother and sister (Brooks and Mary) is that at one time Brooks was the protector in the relationship -- giving Mary advice and even seed money to start her own business -- but after a brain injury, Brooks has lost his ability to function reliably in the real world and needs daily assistance. Now, the tables have turned and Mary is the parent/protector of the two. 

That's an interesting enough dynamic, I suppose, but in this story it just seems thrown together; something we're told and not really shown. I simply don't buy Brooks mental condition the way it's sold here. One minute Brooks is peeing in an olive oil bottle, the next he's hallucinating, the next he's leading their escape through an upstairs window. I don't know, something seemed a little too convenient about the moments when Brooks was able to function and the idiosyncrasies of his mental illness just seemed to serve the author's purposes too easily. 

Also, the whole sex tape thing seemed forced and bogus and not enough of a genuine "problem" on which to swing an entire story. Basically, Mary becomes distraught when, after breaking up with her lover, Wynn, when she realizes he still has the sex tape they made together and that there's a chance (why? who knows) that he might put it on the internet. There doesn't seem to be any reason for her to fear this: Wynn is some sort of a work colleague and he's married. There doesn't seem to be a reason for him to want to defame Mary or put his own career in jeopardy by violating someone's rights. There just doesn't seem enough of a reason for Mary to commit a crime (breaking and entering) into Wynn's home to steal back the tape. It wouldn't be so bad, but that's the whole structural framework of the story.

What is the redeeming value here? It's hard to put my finger on it, but the simple fact that I'm able to make such a detailed criticism tells me there must be some value to this story. At least it held my attention and caused me to read closely. That, in and of itself sometimes, is an achievement. Perhaps the individual elements themselves did not seem completely formed and functional, but the "connective tissue" (to borrow a really hackneyed term) was strong enough hold this story together into something not un-entertaining. As far as the greater "point" or take-away? IDFK.

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…

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…