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New Yorker Fiction Review #117: "Vespa" by Tim Parks

Issue: Oct. 5, 2015

Story: "Vespa" by Tim Parks

Rating: $$$

Review: Tim Park's last NYer short story, "Reverend", from the Dec. 8, 2014 issue (TGCB 1/18/2015) fell a little flat in my mind and failed to make any kind of impression. "Vespa," however, is an astute, urgent, compactly written meditation on adolescence and young manhood, in which every sentence seems to carry more weight than the one before it.

"Vespa" takes place over a 48 or 72 hour period in which Mark, an older teenage boy, gets his Vespa stolen, and then gets it back, all while he's trying to keep his girlfriend, the enchanting and exotic Jasmin, interested in him, negotiate a challenging assignment in art class, and find his footing in an adult world which still seems to operate independently of him and very much in opposition to his wishes. Even though he's in "college" (which in England I take it is like the first two years of American college), has a cool Vespa and a hot girlfriend, his ego is still that of a fragile teenager. He is stepping ever so tentatively onto the seemingly thin ice of the adult world, but without much confidence in himself or his moves or his place in the world...

"There was a constant windy tug to the day that he just didn't feel part of. He didn't feel part of the world at all."

Damn if that doesn't describe with dead-on accuracy what it feels like to be a teenager on a bad day. The world feels lonely, unfair, and completely unresponsive to you. You feel stupid and incompetent. Indecisive. I'm having flashbacks even know that I'm writing this.

The wonderful thing about this story is the subtle change that comes over Mark at the end of the harrowing experience of having his Vespa stolen and almost losing his girlfriend. It seems as though the incident has put him through some kind of emotional wringer and, just by virtue of having made it out the other end of the wringer with his emotions and ego intact, he is stronger and smarter. He notices things he didn't notice before. He acts decisively and in accordance with his own wishes and with respect to his own desires. You might say he starts to grow a pair of balls.

Fantastic story. Read it here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/10/05/vespa

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