Skip to main content

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:


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

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…