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New Yorker Fiction Review: "Last Meal at Whole Foods," by Said Sayrafiezadeh

Issue: July 28, 2014

Story: "Last Meal at Whole Foods"

Author: Said Sayrafiezadeh

Review: This is officially the first time this has happened, but I'm covering this story out of order. Apparently I skipped over this one amid the raft of NYer issues that have piled up on my nightstand since late July. I could make a dozen excuses here, but why bother...

Frankly, I could've lived the rest of my life and never known or cared that I'd skipped over this particular dose of pabulum. But for my eternal vigilance and unwillingness to falter in my NYer reviewing quest, I probably wouldn't have even bothered to write a review.

This story covers a young man's final days with his mother, who is dying of cancer. That's an interesting enough premise (who knows anymore), but this author completely mis-handles it. First off, his mother is a cipher; I spent 3,000 words in this guy's head and I still don't know jack shit about her. Secondly, this is one of those stories where I just feel the emotion is being force-fed to me. Like I'm supposed to feel this or that blah blah blah; like the author is over explaining how he feels about something instead of developing the scene and letting the emotion come out genuinely between the characters.

There's also a question of material: is your subject matter interesting and, if it's not inherently interesting can you turn a mundane subject into something interesting. The answer is "No" to both questions here. Death is a universal topic (maybe the most universal topic) and the death and suffering of a loved one are things we all will have to deal with eventually. Thus, I think most people would be interested a well-handled and moving story about death, something they could learn from and get some perspective from. However, stories like this can also be made really, really lifeless (no pun intended) and boring. Like this one. A story about a man's last days with his dying mother might be interesting, but a story about a man's meals at Whole Foods and his trip to his mother's new nursing home, with his dying mother, is not interesting. Sorry. Especially if the narrator stays inside his head the whole time.

Supposedly Sayrafiezadeh is an Award-Winning playwright. Given that information, I'd have expected to get some really crackling dialogue in this story...but no. The story was actually almost devoid of dialogue. His conversations with people actually take place inside the narrators head and when there is dialogue, it's largely "on the nose," which means boring and mundane, "Hey how are you?/I'm fine. What's up" kind of thing.


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