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New Yorker Fiction Review #137: "Buttony" by Fiona McFarlane

Issue: March 7, 2016

Story: "Buttony" by Fiona McFarlane

Rating: $

Review: I'm predisposed to like Fiona McFarlane because she wrote one of the greatest New Yorker stories I've ever read, "Art Appreciation" (TGCB, 5/18/13) -- actually one of the greatest stories I've ever read, full stop -- and I have since read and enjoyed (but was not overly blown-away by) her debut novel The Night Guest. Suffice it to say, she's a writer whose burgeoning career I've been able to follow and appreciate in real-time.

"Buttony" is a small, tightly packed, tightly-wound story that takes place over the course of about an hour, and deals with a class of school children who, led by their teacher and the most popular student, Joseph, play a round of their favorite game, called "buttony." Except this time, something goes awry which causes the normally civil and carefully executed game turn into chaos.

What it is that goes awry, and how it goes awry, and what happens when it goes awry, are all part of the great underlying mystery of this story, a mystery which I'm not sure I've unpacked in my mind and I have a subtle feeling McFarlane hasn't either.

But, I will give her credit for fashioning an eerie and unusual situation out of a seemingly mundane setting and keeping the string taught the entire time.


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