Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review #166: "The Edge of the Shoal" by Cynan Jones



Review of a short story from the Oct. 17, 2016 issue of The New Yorker...

Easily one of the worst and most difficult to read stories I've read in the NYer in a long time. And I knew it right from the first couple paragraphs. I don't see how you can make someone getting struck by lightning into a boring story, but Cynan Jones has accomplished this.

Plot: A guy goes fishing alone in a boat and gets struck by lighting. He tries to get back to shore. Full stop.

I have a few problems with this story:

1.) I understand that he's Irish, but none of his terms seem to make sense and it's difficult if not impossible to figure out what he's talking about at any one time during the story. A "kayak" to my mind is a covered, canoe-like boat with a hole for person to slide in...but my man's over here talking about a "sail" and a "mast" and about laying down in the boat and about the boat's first-aid kit. Wha? Also, never heard of breaking a fishes neck by snapping it with ones thumb and forefinger, but that could just be difference in technique.

1.b) His writing also makes it really difficult to just basically understand what is happening. For example, after he gets struck by lightning, the character finds himself floating on his back. Okay...what unconscious body has ever floated on its back? And we are meant to believe he's floating in the open ocean on his back?

2.) Jones is one of those prose writers who clearly fancies himself a poet as well, because his writing has -- or attempts to employ -- a certain "prosody" that in my opinion just gets in the way of telling a story. Add this to the already aforementioned clumsiness with terminology and action, and it makes for a terrible read.

There was one phrase I liked in this story, early in, when the man is fishing and thinking about his father. He wonders to himself: "Why do we stop doing the things we enjoy and the things we know are good for us?" I've had this thought every time I go camping or fishing, thinking to myself: "Why the hell don't I do this more often???"

For that phrase and that phrase alone it was worth slogging through this story. Incidentally, I tried the old "John Cheever" trick after I read this story, to moderate success. So I may have to admit I was a little off my game when I read this story, but...off my game or not, the story had some serious and objectively insurmountable problems.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

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…