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New Yorker Fiction Review #176: "Most Die Young" by Camille Bordas


Camille Bordas (photo credit: Goodreads)

Review of a short story from the Jan. 2, 2017 (!!) issue of The New Yorker...


Yes, I'm six (6) months behind in my New Yorker short story reviewing. Almost seven. But, no time for self-flagellation. I do plenty of that in the course my normal, every day life. So...

The short story "Most Die Young," by Camille Bordas, fits neatly into a category I have come to call a "metro fiction" (not to be confused  with the early-2000s term "metrosexual"). To me, metro stories are those about urban, educated, middle-class or upper-middle-class white people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s whose problems are mostly existential (things such as: does Billy like me, I feel alone, did I marry the wrong person, should I break up with this person, should I date this person, what should I do with my life, did my parents really love me, etc., etc. as opposed to: I have a terminal disease or I'm starving or the local cheiftan is trying to kill me, etc.) and about them dealing with one of those problems in the course of their daily lives. They ride the subway, they sit and brood at coffee shops, they attend art gallery openings, they take weekend trips to the country, they call their kooky best friends to discuss, they visit their aging parents for perspective...all while trying to deal with their central existential problem. 

Mind you, this is the demographic to which I myself belong. I'd be remiss and a little obtuse if I didn't point that out. I'd also be remiss if I didn't point out that "existential" problems (sometimes called First World Problems, White People Problems, or even, less-commonly, Baroque Problems) are very real if they're your problems and they're occupying your mind. After all, just beause you don't have to worry about having enough food, clothing, shelter, and internet access, doesn't mean you get to stop worrying; you're a human being, after all. I merely point out that this subject matter is a major type of material for modern day literary fiction, and probably always was. 

And, just like with any genre of fiction, there are good metro stories and bad metro stories. Camille Bordas' "Most Die Young," is a really good metro story. The character is likable and finds herself at a place very familiar to most adults: after the break-up of a multi-year relationship, not knowing whether to go backward or forward, and sort of living in a sort of purgatory where mundane things seem to have greater meaning than they should. 

What I found really endearing about this story is that the author frames it in a similar context to the one I mentioned above. The main character, early in the story, interviews a professor who is studying a tribe of native Malaysian people who live their entire lives in almost crippling fear and thus, die young. I can't help but draw a parallel to the main character and the "metro" class in general. Not that all of us live our lives in crippling fear (not remotely), but that -- at times -- the overriding theme of modern day metro life seems to be unnecessary wory, worry that has the power to cripple and destroy us and, less dire, prevent us from enjoying our lives. 

In my opinion, the thing that makes or breaks a metro story is the believability of the details about the character's life. Since one of the main things characters in metro stories do is talk -- about their ex, about their current partner, about their family members, about their job, about their problem -- the details have got to be genuine and the character has got to be believable. Camille Bordas does a great job with this and left me, by the end of the story, with a feeling like I knew the main character personally or at least that she was an actual person (or could concievably be). And who knows, she may actually be, considering that the material for most metro stories comes from ones every day life. That's the point. 

Also kind of cool that the story takes place in Paris. 

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