Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Refrees" by Joseph O'Neill

He should've left it at that...
Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Story: "The Referees"

Author: Joseph O'Neill

Rating: Double "Meh"

Review: This story has had plenty of time to simmer inside my head, as I read it about a week ago. And, as your resident expert short fiction reviewer, I can certify that absolutely nothing about this story stayed with me, other than the cutesy little shell-game O'Neill pulls-off with the title to the story (Hint: It's not about sports referees! Tee hee hee...barf). When your story relies on a gimmick like that you're taking a big, big gamble; mostly, you're hoping that your story is good enough to overcome or sort of earn the gimmick. This story did not.

Basically, an under-achiever in his mid-30s is coming off the breakup of a very serious relationship and has decided to move back to New York. In order for him to get the apartment he wants, he must get three character references (hence, the "referees"); however, his proves more difficult than he'd imagined. As one after another of his potential referees wiggles out of giving him a reference, he is forced to confront the superficial nature of many of the relationships he's had over the past 10 years and to confront the destruction left in the wake of his self-absorption.

I think "self-absorption" is a good place to finish explaining why I didn't like this story: it is entirely too concerned with the author's own assessment of his quirks and personality foibles, none of which were really that outrageous or interesting. Kind of like he's trying to say: "Hey, look at how comically dysfunctional my ever-so-slightly out-of-the-ordinary upper-middle-class life is!"

No way, dude. Not buying it.

P.S. When the best illustration the New Yorker art department can come up with to accompany your story is a blank sheet of paper, you have written a boring story. 



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…