Skip to main content

Two from the New Yorker

So I am way, waaay behind on my New Yorker fiction reviewing. So far behind I almost said hell with it and abandoned this entire enterprise; however, there are some things in life you just can't let go of. I made a promise to myself about 18 months ago to read and review every New Yorker story, week-in and week-out, until.... well, there wasn't really an "until," I just don't want to quit now. Anyway, here are reviews of two (somewhat) recent stories:

Issue: May 19, 2014

Story: "The Waitress"

Author: Robert Coover

Review: Having only discovered Robert Coover through my weekly New Yorker fiction reviewing, I've come to look forward to seeing his name on table of contents. His stories are imaginative, magical realist, and often incorporate fairy-tale elements (which, most of the time I could do without, but Coover manages to make them work most of the time) and, in the main, represent a nice departure from the staid, traditional form and subject matter of a lot of literary short fiction. His story, "The Colonel's Daughter," is one of my all-time favorite NYer shorts. As for "The Waitress," I'd have to give it a un-emphatic score of: Meh.

Here, Coover takes the fairy-tale-ish type idea of making a "wish" that changes ones life, and gives it a realistic spin, as a much put-upon waitress wishes that men would stop ogling her and that, in fact, no one could ever look at her again. Chaos ensues as people find themselves forcefully unable to look in the waitresses direction, their necks snapped in the opposite direction by some kind of force. Yada-yada-yada. She robs a bank cause no one can look directly at her, not even the surveillance cameras. She gets rich. She settles down with a blind beggar because he's the only one who can be in the same room with her without having his head violently turned in the other direction. The end.

I don't know...I guess this was supposed to be tongue-in-cheeky type funny? I'm sure there are those who giggled with glee at the waitress' glib, jaded way of looking at the chain of events set in motion by her wish, but I didn't find it very entertaining. To offer a real technical critique: I'd have liked to see a better resolution. The only saving grace is that the story wasn't very long. Minimal time commitment = minimal loss.


Issue: May 26, 2014

Story: "Camilo"

Author: Alejandro Zambra

Review: Here we have a charming, adolescent "buddy" story, almost a character study, really, narrated in the first person and focusing closely on the main character's time with his buddy Camilo, who is a few years older. The two are roughly 11 and 14 when the story begins, and the narrative takes them through a few of their formative years together.

Camilo is the kind of friend everyone needs to have at some point when they're growing up: the older, more experienced friend who forgives and understands your youthful innocence and helps "induct" you into the world of adolescence. Camilo helps the main character talk to girls, express himself through poetry, learn about new music, even navigate the world of soft drugs.

In return, the main character offers Camilo the admiration and friendship which the older boy needs in equal measure. The main character's father (Camilo's godfather) also tries to take Camilo under his wing and teach him about soccer, as Camilo's own father has abandoned him for some reason related to the Chilean politcal turmoil of the late 80s. Camilo doesn't seem to "get" sports, but he heartily attempts to learn and it's obvious that he appreciates the time and instruction.

Years later, the main character finds himself in his early 20s in Amsterdam. Camilo has died in a car accident back in Chile, and the main character runs into Camilo's father. The two talk and the experience sheds light on a blankspot in the main character's understanding of his friend, but somehow only seems to underscore his adolescent feeling that the world is vast and that there are no grand conclusions to be drawn from life. At 22, he might be said to be still an adolescent anyway.

I don't see a real "point" to be taken from this story and I don't think there needs to be one. It is a sketch or portrait of the importance of friendship and of the roles that true friends play in our lives -- the main character's father fills a void in Camilo's life, just as does the main character. Similarly, Camilo fills a void in the main character's life, and that of the main character's father, since Camilo's father and the main character's father had had a falling out years ago and become estranged. Viewed in that sense, I think this story works admirably well.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

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…