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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. 



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