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New Yorker Fiction Review #115: "My Curls Have Blown all the Way to China" by Amos Oz

Issue: Sept. 21, 2015

Story: "My Curls Have Blown all the Way to China" by Amos Oz

Rating: $$$

Review: I don't know who Amos Oz is (or didn't before yesterday, anyway) and I've never read anything he's written other than this petite story in the New Yorker. I can say that about a lot of the authors I read in the magazine, but I can't say that I enjoy many stories I've read in the NYer as much as this one. 

The story follows an Israeli woman, Bracha, as she learns that her husband is leaving her for another woman and deals with it internally. Bracha is not overly upset about it from an emotional standpoint -- she does not beat her fists or pull out her hair or beg her husband, Moshe, not to leave her. No, she seemed to have all but checked out of the relationship already. However, her husband's affair makes Bracha question her own sexuality and attractiveness and causes her to consider sexuality in a new light, one that she'd forgotten long ago after having been with the same man for so long. 

Bracha's voice charmed me from the first paragraph. There is something so honest and vulnerable, yet funny and self-possessed, in the way that she cycles through the various phases of dealing with the knowledge that her husband has chosen to be with another woman, a woman about whom Bracha knows nothing. Bracha begins sizing up women on the street, their figures, the smells of their perfumes, their styles of dressing, their attitudes, she even follows one woman for a while before the woman turns and confronts her. 

Bracha has a number of different thoughts that she cycles through in this story: she laments her situation, she wonders what Moshe's lover is like, she rejoices in the fact that she won't have to perform his favorite sexual act "the Chalice" anymore, she looks at other women, she wonders how Moshe and the woman met and got on, she writes her daily to-do lists, and she refers back to an advice column she reads periodically. To me, this writing technique is pure genius because it mirrors the way we ourselves think. Very little of substance actually happens in this story besides Bracha learning that Moshe is leaving...and yet it seems like the story is full of action. That is pretty incredible. 

What I love about this story is that Bracha is hurt but she is not pitiable. In fact, because of who she is, the trauma causes her to look outward, into a world that always existed under her nose but at which she never bothered to look before: 

The street was filled with all sorts of women. Suddenly, I had an urge to know exactly what brassiere and undies each one had on underneath. There were some who walked in pairs and laughed out loud. And there were lots of blondes, mostly with bleached hair, and probably they wore micro-string bikini pants underneath. Black. I could easily dye my hair blonde--who's to stop me? Or buy underwear like that or see-through lacy lingerie...

Does it sound like this person is going to lay down and die? Probably not. This is someone with some pluck, clearly. We almost get the sense Bracha is better off alone, without Moshe, to face the rest of her adulthood and mature adulthood on her own. 

The title is interesting, as it refers to the fact Bracha was getting her hair cut -- 3/4 of it cut off, apparently -- the day Moshe was on a business trip and falling in love with the other woman. Bracha remarks that the wind, which blows East to West, had probably blown her curls all the way to China by now. While I haven't thought too too much about that per se, I think it is interesting that she was cutting all her hair off, even before Moshe dropped the news. Did she secretly know? Was she herself bracing for a change she didn't consciously know was coming? Or was she maybe the one who was leaving Moshe, in reality? Maybe she had left him long ago?

In case you're interested, I'd say this is one worth looking up on line and reading. 


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