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New Yorker Fiction Review #118: "Usl at the Stadium" by Rivka Galchen

Issue: Oct. 12, 2015

Story: "Usl at the Stadium" by Rivka Galchen

Rating: $

Review: I tend not to like stories that tie too closely into real life events or are supposed to, quite surgically and precisely, target some anathema aspect of society. This story is kind of both. I don't like those kinds of stories because a.) I feel like it's cheating to directly rip something out of the news or the trash-heap of internet and pop culture, and b.) I feel preached-to and a little bit manipulated, and I don't read fiction to get preached to.

That said, Galchen's story about a Usl -- an overweight young man who falls asleep at a Yankee's game and becomes a laughing-stock and an internet pincushion after being broadcast on T.V. (unbeknownst to him at the time; he was at the game) -- is not without a few pithy, memorable lines and a likable, relatable charcter, in Usl. Even if it does feel like a love letter to Steve Bartman, who became the target of outrage for Cub's fans after he prevented an outfielder from catching an important ball in some Cub's playoff game. IDK...look it up.

As Usl tries to live his daily life in the face of having become infamous on the internet, the people who really love and care about him -- his mother and his boss Gregory -- emerge in stark relief to the tide of hatred and insult that has washed upon his shores overnight. Usl, however, reflects that his mother's kindness and unconditional love left him unprepared to meet the situation with aplomb or even find a way to make some money out of it:

"Good mothers are bad mothers, Usl thought. Only bad, mean mothers prepare you for what is to come."

Another funny one about his mother, just because it's a great line:

"He had the feeling, as he often did with his mother, that he was speaking to a ghost poorly educated about the present."

Also really brilliant and unexpected his Usl's boss Gregory going on about the nature of what is useful and what is "good" in life:

"You know, scientists used to ask, Why do we sleep?...But then other scientists said that these are the wrong questions. The question is, why are we so often awake?...The question isn't, Why is there evil? The question is, Why is there good?"

I circled back around to that quote to demonstrate that Usl's personal crisis, his brush with the really bilious, black waters of public shame and the hatred in men's hearts causes him to (at least begin) to see his life a little differently and to reach some new conclusions. Being forced into public view and subjected to shaming by strangers makes him appreciate those who are in his corner. That's called "growth," and that's called a story. Awwwwww...isn't that special??

Actually, I give Galchen points for her insights into daily life and certain ever-present existential questions. Even if I did give her last NYer story "The Late Novels of Gene Hackman," (NYer 12/9/13; TGCB 1/8/14) a mixed review. Maybe she's growing on me? At this rate, in 2020 she'll be getting a three $ rating. I'm sure she's biting her fingernails.


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