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New Yorker Fiction Review #156: "The Abandonment" by Joshua Ferris

From the August 1, 2016 issue...

Joshua Ferris has authored some of my absolute favorite New Yorker short stories over the past nearly four years that I've been reading and reviewing NYer fiction, "The Breeze," being the one that stands out foremost in my mind. His writing always has a dark, form-shifting, disorienting quality that forces you to pay attention in order to figure out what's going on, while not being so confusing or disjointed that it loses you.

Ferris' material is the "dark matter" of the human soul, where the conscious and the subconscious over-lap and produce paranoia, dysfunction, daydreams, lies, infidelity, fantasy, and other mysterious concepts which are difficult to map and difficult to explain, but which Ferris does well when exploring.

In "The Abandonment," Ferris tells the story of Nick, a young married man who, seeing (thinking) that his wife has left him, goes to seek out a woman whom he's recently met and become infatuated with. He and the woman, an artist and a mother of an infant, share a very steamy few moments alone in her apartment which ends in them making out on her couch and with Nick making promises and suggestions he's likely not to keep. Only when Nick returns to his apartment, he finds his wife has not left him, and we find out this is sort of a pattern for Nick.

The marvelous thing about this story is, as I alluded to above, Ferris has a way of keeping us guessing the entire time, by telling us that Nick's wife has left him that very morning. Most logical, rational people would assume that the normal reaction to a recently broken relationship -- only two or three hours broken -- is not to run out to the home of a recent infatuation (also married), but rather to, let's say, try and get one's partner back? But Nick doesn't do that, which sets us the reader up with a really big question in our minds, one that we read the story desperately eager to find out. Maybe it's a literary device or trick, but it works.

Also, the scene between Nick and his new love interest is finely wrought, full of tension and lust and innuendo and finally, a petite form of consummation as the two end up kissing on the couch and even sort of planning how they'll start their lives together, all this while the woman's husband is out on a grocery store run. Nothing like danger, urgency, and intention to escalate a romance, eh?

Except, we come to understand that Nick has infidelity in his very DNA, and he's been down this road before, perhaps many, many times and left a trail of who knows how many desperate women in his wake, while his wife reaches a breaking point over and over.


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