Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Peacetime" by Luke Mogelson

Issue: April 27, 2015

Story: "Peacetime" by Luke Mogelson

Rating: $$$

Review: I like a raw, gritty story. I like an original voice. I like writing that disorients me for a moment, takes me a few paragraphs or pages to get used to, and then sucks me in and doesn't let me go until the last word. Therefore, I found a lot of entertainment and value in "Peacetime," by Luke Mogelson.

"Peacetime" is set in modern day New York City (lot of NYC stories lately, right??) and takes place over the course of a few weeks in the life of the narrator, whom we know only as Papadopoulos, an Iraq war veteran who is now a paramedic, living in the Armory on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Estranged from his wife and living on the fringes of what might be called "normal" society, Papadopoulos has returned from the horrors of the Iraq war only to face equivalent horrors -- some of them really unthinkable -- every day in his job right here at home. When he finally gets the courage to go back and face his wife, he finds out she's long-since taken off with her new boyfriend, and that his old house is empty. Incapable of returning to the normalcy of his life before the war, he seems stuck in a nether world of violence and his own unwilling exile into the dark corners of society with others who've been damaged by the war.

The Author
What makes "Peacetime" so interesting is that it requires you to read beyond what the narrator is telling you. Papadopoulos is pretty matter-of-fact when relating the macabre details of his daily job, but what's really behind all of that is the fact that part of him needs the violence, or at the very least his time in a war zone so inured him to violence that his comfort with it is a marketable skill.

Furthermore, this same comfort and familiarity with trauma is what now makes him different from people like his wife, who is long gone, or his old neighbor, whom he talks to for a moment when looking for his wife and who expresses -- probably like most non-combatant, non-military types -- very little understanding or genuine sympathy for what Papadopoulos has been through. The only person Papadopoulos can really related to his his friend and co-worker Karen, who is bound to become a police officer, but they have nothing close to a "relationship" that might help Papadopoulos deal with some of his issues.

"Peacetime" unique in that it deals with some really heavy issues -- disillusionment, alienation,
emotional stress, mental trauma and recovery -- through the fractured and debatably un-reliable lens of the story's own subject. It's like learning about the effects of an experimental drug by listening to what's going on in the brain of the poor unfortunate laboratory rat; the true effects are probably more difficult to decipher and understand, but that much more real and heartbreaking.


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…