Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review #136: "Total Solar" by Luke Mogelson

Issue: Feb. 29, 2016

Story: "Total Solar" by Luke Mogelson

Rating: $$$

Review: Even better than having giants like DeLillo and Saunders, this is what I like to read in The New Yorker fiction section: the work of a new and emerging young voice. I vaguely recognized Luke Mogelson's name when I opened up the pages of this issue (I'm only two months behind!!), but then immediately recognized his style as soon as I started reading "Total Solar." Mogelson's quick, raw, darkly humorous and introspective fiction appeared last year in the NYer, with his story "Peacetime" from the April 27, 2015 issue (TGCB 5/13/2015). I loved that story for the same reasons I like this story: 1.) because his writing has a way of reaching through the page, grabbing you by the shirt collar, and bringing you into the story immediately, and 2.) because his subject matter -- the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the people who serve in and around those wars -- is not something I get to read fiction about often.

While I don't want to get too deep into the subject of "war fiction," something which I know a bit about in practice but not much about in theory (I've read a lot of it but I haven't studied it, you know), I will say that I don't believe you can really and fully "understand" a war until good fiction and films start coming out about it. And it seems like good fiction and films trail the actual even by about 10 or so years. Well, we're at that point, as it's been 15 years since we went into Afghanistan and 13 since Iraq.

"Total Solar" concerns a journalist who, on a meeting with a U.N. representative in Kabul, suffers through the bombing of the restaurant he's sitting in. In the aftermath, he must find his way to safety, through a city and a people he does not fully understand and who are not always, in fact very often not, in fact most often not, concerned with his welfare. This ain't North American danger, folks. This is "walk around alone and you'll have a gunman on you in 10 minutes" kind of danger. This is the real deal.

Luke Mogelson talking about books, I assume. 
Part of Mogelson's character's challenge is to navigate this world while still staying relevant in the
other world in which he inhabits: the world of expat journalists and non-military types operating in country, none of whom possess anything like the requisite amount of knowledge to escape the constant threat of violence, but then, it seems that no one can, not even the Afghans.

It's a world filled with violence and miscommunication in which nothing can be taken for granted and every meal, every moment, could be one's last. And yet Mogelson manages to insert a sort of self-deprecating, darkly funny charm into all this, just as he did in "Peacetime" as his character recovered from trauma faced in the Iraq war.

"Total Solar" is a short story from Mogelson's collection (and first book) These Heroic Happy Dead, which I'll probably say I'm going to buy, really intend to buy, forget about, and then read six months later after everyone is raving about it and after I've missed my chance to look like I was in the know. Such is life. 


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

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…