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New Yorker Fiction Review #154: "The King's Teacup at Rest" by Michael Andreasen

From the July 11 & 18, 2016 issue...

I love a good double issue of The New Yorker, not only because I am always way behind on my short story reviewing and the double-issue jumps me ahead two weeks, but because.... Actually that's the only reason.

First exposure to Michael Adreasen. In his story about an imaginary king who presides over dead amusement parks -- His Royal Highness the King of Retired Amusements -- I can't help but feel the strong influence of George Saunders and a certain type of 90s absurdism which, in my opinion, doesn't quite resonate any more.

The juxtaposition of a medieval-style king with this haughty title and his use of the Royal "We" up against the sad uselessness of a long-since shut down amusement park is funny, don't get me wrong. Like when the king gets a stomach ache from eating one of the park's leftover hot dogs, or when his servants try to operate the pirate ship ride so that he can "feel the rock of the waves...know the kiss of the wind."

Gradually we see that, in reality, the king is trying to get over the fact that his wife, The Queen, left with his royal engineer, Rudy Vermiglia, and her memory comes back to him as he skulks through the sad husk of an amusement park with his cadre of servants.

I get what Andreasen was trying to do here, and it's actually a cool idea. Who hasn't had a breakup, right? And also, everyone's been to an amusement park, even, probably, an old one, and felt the aura of joy mixed with sadness that exudes from a place and from objects that exist only for the momentary pleasure of the public. When you strip away the good times, and the public, even a brand-spanking-new amusement park looks a little lonely.

But yet, Andreasen lingers too long on the details of the world, and too much on the Scout's search for his people. In a short story, there is only time for so much digression, and Andreasen digresses way too much. My eyes glazed over more than a few times and I had to stop and ask myself: "Okay, where did I stop paying attention?" A bad sign, if not the absolute death knell of a piece of fiction or film.


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