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Showing posts from March, 2019

New Yorker Fiction Review #223: "What Can You Do with a General" by Emma Cline

Review of a short story from the Feb. 4, 2019 issue of The New Yorker...

A while back I came up with my own pet name for short stories like "What Can You Do with a General," that is, stories about the "problems" of middle-class urban or suburban white people that aren't really problems to 99% of the world. Sometimes these stories are also about their disillusionment, something which -- although it is very real to the person experiencing it -- is even less of an actual problem. I call these stories "Metro Fiction."

I cast my aspersions on this kind of fiction with more than a slight hint of irony and, deep-down, a bit of affection. After all, I myself am a middle-class white person living in an urban area. Therefore these stories are my stories, those of "my" people. Furthermore, I do not think these stories deserve to be told any less than the stories of, say, black Americans living in urban environments, or rural Thai farmers, or Middle Eas…

New Yorker Fiction Review #222: "Asleep at the Wheel" by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Review of a short story from the Feb. 11, 2019 issue of The New Yorker...

I usually love stories by T.C. (oops, I mean T. Coraghessan) Boyle, but this one took a long time to get into and felt a bit under-wrought. I've noticed that one of the "veins" Boyle likes to write in (and all I've ever read are his short stories in The New Yorker) is the plotting of the future course of societal dysfunction, given just a few more decades of technology. It's like limited-range "spec" fiction.

For example, in "Asleep at the Wheel," Boyle projects maybe 20 years out into a future in which almost all cars are self-driving and connected to our cell phones, home appliances, credit cards, etc. The operating systems in the cars can even tell us whether our kids are at home, what they're doing at any precise moment, and how we should be raising them. Robots scoot around here and there checking on people by asking "What is the situation here?" and r…

New Yorker Fiction Review #221: "All Will Be Well" by Yiyun Li

Review of a short story from the March 11, 2019 issue of The New Yorker...

One of the cool things about reviewing these short stories week-in and week-out is you get exposed to certain authors over and over again and you get a chance to become familiar with a certain (even if small) patch of their work. But that's only if you like the writer's work. If not, then reading the stories becomes a chore.

I haven't been particularly thrilled to see Yiyun Li's name pop up on the table of contents of The New Yorker. Her work always seems a little too ethereal and too caught up in the emotional realm, the infinite spaces between people's ill-defined and unexpressed desires, fears, expectations, etc. I prefer objects, dialogue, observation, humor, conflict, tension. But the short story "All Will Be Well" has a different and much more tangible or physical quality to it than a lot of Yiyun Li's other work that I've read, therefore I actually enjoyed her writin…

New Yorker Fiction Review #220: "The Starlet Apartments" by Jonathan Lethem

Review of a short story from the March 4, 2019 issue of The New Yorker...

Ever since I "released" myself from the burden of having to review every single short story in The New Yorker, my writing life has been much more expansive and relaxed. Now, I just review the short stories from the issues as they come in and as I have time. I find it's much more timely that way and, also, the project has some "meaning" to me again. It is no longer a self-imposed weight dragging me down. On to this highly-layered offering by Jonathan Lethem...

[Please refer to my other reviews of Jonathan Lethem stories for more detailed gushing about what an awesome writer JL is and how I actually met him once during grad school]

One measure of a piece of fiction, in my opinion, is how many levels the story "operates" on. By that measure, "The Starlet Apartments" is a pretty amazing piece of short fiction. There are other ways in which it could be said this story falls…

New Yorker Fiction Review #219: "The Confession" by Leila Slimani

Review of a short story from the Feb. 18 & 25, 2019 issue of The New Yorker...

I read a lot of short stories in The New Yorker and with varying degrees of interest. But few have ever stopped me dead in my tracks like "The Confession" by Leila Slimani. This first-person story is told in the voice of a young, rich Moroccan man confessing to a rape he committed years before in rural Morocco.

Frankly, I don't even want to get into the details of the story. Suffice it to say, it is a stark, tragic reminder of the kind of sexual atrocities that happen to women all over the world, every day. What's even worse is that the story takes it's origin from an actual confession Leila Slimani got wind of through a website that encourages men to come forward and anonymously confess to sex crimes.

One interesting, ironic note in the story is that, early in the story, some young men are joking about a woman who "dishonored her family" by having sex before marriage. An…