Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review #250: "Cicadia," by David Gilbert

 Cicadia,” by David Gilbert | The New Yorker

Review of a short story from the Aug. 24, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...

David Gilbert was born in 1967, so I don't think it's fair to call him a "young" writer but there is something about his prose that seems injected with the electricity and aimless existential angst of youth. Or maybe that's just because his short story last week -- "Cicadia" -- is about a group of suburban teenagers goofing off during the summertime. 

Citing the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) as one of the influences of this story, it reads more like Superbad (2007). The characters steal some weed from a sleeping older brother, they drive around the neighborhood looking for a house party at which to sell said weed. Naturally, one of them is obsessing over a girl who is supposed to be there. Not so naturally, one of them is struggling with whether or not to begin the process from separating himself from his friends who seem bound for mediocrity. It's an interesting enough setting. 

Except that its a genre and setting that feels a bit too over-done at this point and also, this particular story, just seems to lack consequence. Do we really need another zany teenage suburban romp? Set in the 1980s, no less? We've got a library of John Hughes films. Not to mention Stranger Things (2016) which has given us all the teenage 80s suburban nostalgia we could possibly get. Frankly, it just feels like, in "Cicadia," David Gilbert is painting a picture inside someone else's canvas. 

Not to say the story wasn't without it's moments. But it doesn't feel finished. Gilbert hints at inner conflicts and inner lives in the beginning that he doesn't do anything with later in the story. In a short story, that's extremely difficult. Okay, so why bring them up in the first place? It's as though he sets the characters up but never pushes their inner conflict to a head or even attempts that. The only excuse would be if this were part of a novel. And maybe it's going to be at some point, but for right now it's a short story that doesn't particularly work, in my opinion.


Josh said…
You're too kind. This story is damned awful. It's all tell and no show. When he finally gets around to actually having a SCENE with DIALOGUE, it's bloody awful and unrealistic. It's not good enough for realism and not great enough for magical realism. It's just crap. Lord knows how it got into the NYer, though as Tom Wolfe pointed out 55 years ago in his epic takedown of the New Yorker, it has always been Esquire, not the New Yorker, to showcase the great writers.