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New Yorker Fiction Review: "So You're Just What, Gone?" by Justin Taylor

Issue: May 18, 2015

Story: "So You're Just What, Gone?" by Justin Taylor

Rating: $/Meh

Review: A young teenage girl gets on a plane and sits next to a man who gives her his cell phone number. She, being a curious (and ignorant (and kind of stupid)) teenage girl, texts him late at night and gets involved in a sext message exchange that, while thankfully does not result in an actual meet-up, provides her an eerie glimpse into a world of perverted sexuality she might have guessed was out there but had never actually encountered before. 

At first read it was tempting for me to look at this story and lament the fact that the modern world makes it so much easier for perverts to operate, what with cell phones, the internet, etc. but but I don't necessarily think that's the point of this story and I don't think that, in fact, the world is any more or less dangerous for children now than it was 20 or 50 or 100 years ago because of the internet or whatever. There are creeps then, there are creeps now. But I digress...

So what is "So You're Just What, Gone?" really about? In a very subtle way, the story is about self-awareness and the ways by which we arrive at that point. Will Charity call the next stranger who slips  her a phone number on an airplane, I'm thinking probably not, as she now understands (or better understands) that her actions have consequence and realizes that maybe she had better stick to flirting with teenagers, as there's a lot about the adult world she doesn't understand or really want to understand just yet. A valuable lesson learned in a relatively painless way. 

Reason for the mixed rating is that I flat out don't like being trapped in the mind of a teenager for very long and when I do, I'd like it to be someone complex, like a Holden Caulfield type. While I admire Taylor's ability to get into the head of a teenage girl and use lots of words like "eww" and "gross" and "spaz" and make references to modern social media, Charity just isn't interesting enough to make this story an engaging read in and of itself. Take out the prurience that seems to underlie most stories about or involving teenagers, and the story is pretty flat in general. 

Really, the most interesting part of this story is when Charity play out in her mind the aftermath of having reported Mark (the pervert) to the authorities. She imagines having to explain to all her friends, having to undergo counselling, and having to, ultimately, answer the question of why she had texted Mark in the first place. The answer is much simpler than anyone could realize:

"...really, texting Mark was like peeking in the doorway of a bar or the teachers' lounge--someplace you could get in trouble for going into but were curious to glimpse the inside of, just to be able to say you knew what was in there." 

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