Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review #159: "Gender Studies" by Curtis Sittenfeld

From the August 29, 2016 issue...

Great story. Curtis Sittenfeld manages to accomplish a lot in a very short amount of space, and in a tale that takes place over the course of about 18 hours. There is a complex character with a lot of baggage relating to a recently dissolved relationship, who finds herself in a "situation" with a man she's just met, only to stop short of actual coitus because she feels he has tricked her, and only to regret having stopped it later.

Title "Gender Studies" comes from the fact that the main character, Nell, is a Gender Studies professor. The man she meets, her cab driver, is a Trump supporter, but despite that, she warms to him ever so slightly, and somewhat in spite of herself, enough to almost sleep with him.

If nothing else, the story serves as a cultural snapshot of a very specific period in time, late summer of 2015, in which a Trump candidacy was still the butt of jokes (not funny anymore!) and of the kind of "clash" ensues when a grass-fed beef eating, liberal professor encounters and has to deal with a man from the flyover states with whom she would otherwise have nothing in common.

Memorable to me about this story is Nell's looking back at her now broken relationship with Henry, the man who dumped after 11 years for one of his much-younger student, and cringing at how insufferably hipster they were at one point; a lament it seems you can only have in your mid- to late-30s. For that reason alone, I think the story is especially poignant for me and probably for others of my age.

I will also remember Nell's looking back at her drunken, interrupted tryst with the cab driver, and how she felt she had been to harsh on him, a reminiscence which also causes her to think back to a kindness she regretted never performing in high school, toward a classmate whose father had died of cancer. This is a "zone" I appreciate in fiction, and particularly in short stories, where it seems more potent for the limited amount of space in which it happens. It is the feeling of looking back and connecting life's events and maybe drawing some meaning, maybe not, but just acknowledging that life is complicated and that we don't always make the moves we should have made, and living with the regret of that.

Pretty powerful sentiment to be found in the pages of a 3,000 word story.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …