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New Yorker Fiction Review: "Ghosts and Empties" by Lauren Groff

Story: "Ghosts and Empties" by Lauren Groff

Issue: July 20, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: I'm so far behind in my New Yorker Fiction reviewing, I should probably keep this short just so I can move on to the next review in quick style.

I do not know who Lauren Groff is but I know she's my age and she's pretty insightful. I've never read a story in which someone so successfully manages to turn a character's nightly evening walk into a canvas on which to reflect on themselves, on society, on life, on gentrification, time, parenting, and a few other things besides.

Every pause between the end of one breath and the beginning of the next is long; then again, nothing is not always in transition. Soon, tomorrow, the boys will be men, and my husband an I will look at each other crouching under the weight of all we wouldn't or couldn't yell, and all those hours outside walking, my body, my shadow, and the moon.

Paul Simon fans will recognize the title "Ghosts and Empties" from the song "Graceland," a masterpiece, and still may not be able to decipher exactly what it means. But does that really matter? No.

This is the story of a woman, a relatively young mother (mid-30s from the context clues), driven out of her home in the evenings by her latent existential rage to walk the streets of her neighborhood and observe the lives of those in her community while she reflects on her own. This is a best-case scenario of a writer looking about themselves for material in every day life. This is literature that deals with the mundane and connects it to the higher questions in life, which is basically what we -- as normal people with lives that exist in a bandwith that spans from the mundane to somewhat entertaining (and perhaps I speak for myself) -- have to deal with every day.

Those of us without religion anyway, must look around ourselves for meaning, and take it where we can, as does the main character in this story. One thing I love about this character is how closely I can identify with her mid-30s voice. She's someone who has seen a lot of life, gathered some wisdom, is perhaps a little world-weary, but knows there is (hopes there is) a lot left and knows she must summon the strength to face the latter half of her life, which will not end well, no matter what happens in between, and make sense of it all and try to leave the world a better place than when she came into it.

Doesn't get the full $$$ rating because there's a certain slightly off-putting hauter in Groff's voice, a
resigned smugness, that makes it sound like the main character is speaking from a perch, if not lofty, then just about a head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. It's a certain lack of humor and self-deprecation; the main character's faults are only those that she deems acceptable and understandable and within the bounds of her own ego, it seems.

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