"Safari"
by Jennifer Egan
Originally published in the January 11, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. 

Click for a larger image.

Well, though I enjoyed last week’s offering, I wouldn’t give it much more than a six out of ten if I were rating it. And this week I’m afraid my evaluation remains about the same. “Safari” is readable, and there are points to ponder on, but ultimately it doesn’t add much to the discussion but only seeks to sound like a different perspective on a familiar topic.

A virile father has taken his two young children — a daughter Charlie, 14, and a son Rolph, 11 — and his young girlfriend Mindy out on a safari. Mindy is studying anthropology at Berkely. Basically that clue sets up the whole structure of the story as we watch these beings battle it out in this natural setting. It becomes even more solid when the safari encounters a pride of lions and the lioness attacks in order to protect her two young cubs. That happens early in the story, so the meat of the story (both the raw and the cooked — and, yes, raw and cooked food is sitting there in the details) is taken in watching this group of people interact animalistically.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I found it a bit heavy-handed, and not all that interesting a character study to begin with anyway.

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By |2016-06-06T13:25:45-04:00January 4th, 2010|Categories: Jennifer Egan, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett January 4, 2010 at 11:54 am

    For those interested, the forum for January 11?s short story “Safari” is up and ready for your comments. Also, I’d love to get any thoughts from last week’s story as well.

  2. Colette Jones January 4, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    I prefer this one to the last one, Trevor. The hard-hitting leaps into the future are particularly effective, but also some of the nastiness of the present.

  3. Trevor Berrett January 4, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    I’m anxious to read it then, Colette! Unfortunately, I don’t get my copy of The New Yorker in the mail until Tuesday — and I can’t bring myself to forgo the pleasure of the printed page — so I always feel a day or two behind. I’ll catch up shortly!

    Speaking of catching up, I think Kevin will be here shortly.

  4. KevinfromCanada January 5, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Like Trevor, I wait until I get my actual physical copy of the New Yorker, even though I get a message about the fiction some days earlier. Alas, too often it goes on to the “I’ll get to it soon” pile and sits there all too long. I promise to join the fray in the next couple of days — maybe as early as tomorrow. Our reading style means that Colette gets to weigh in first.

  5. Trevor Berrett January 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Well, Colette, this might be an interesting year — what will be the story we finally agree on! As you can see above, I finished it and didn’t really like it. I thought all of the anthropology references were heavy-handed. The combination of anthropology and heavy-handedness made it almost seemed like a college creative writing project to me, honestly, though I know Egan is no freshman.

    Now, when I first start disliking a story, I have a hard time seeing its strengths as I continue reading. I usually end up not liking them, so I’d like to see some of the strengths in this piece. Obviously there’s some value it in, or the editors wouldn’t have chosen it — I don’t think, anyway.

  6. Colette Jones January 7, 2010 at 6:47 am

    I agree that the anthropology pieces were heavy handed and probably unnecessary, and worse – quite boring. I think I give short stories more leeway than I would a novel though, as I know it is going to be so much less time invested. With a short story, I forgive this sort of thing more easily.

    The main theme which seemed to run through this story is human selfishness. No one gave a damn about anyone else except for the young son – he is the only one showing any empathy or sympathy whatsoever. Why didn’t anyone berate the idiot who got out to photograph the lions, causing a lion to be killed?

    But sadly, it is probably not an untrue portrait of a group of selfish people – it was certainly plausible (more so than the last story, in my opinion).

  7. Trevor Berrett January 7, 2010 at 11:33 am

    I think I give short stories more leeway than I would a novel though, as I know it is going to be so much less time invested.

    I think that’s why I overlooked the faults in “Baptizing the Gun,” Colette. I saw some things of interest and didn’t mind the time I spent reading through it.

    I’m also intrigued by your comments about human selfishness. You’re right. I attributed this to Egan’s attempt to show our innate animal nature that only the young boy seems to overcome. At least, to an extent. He still feels the competition between his father and his father’s girlfriend. And he still is the subject of the birdwatchers’ gazes at the end, one of those fairly blatant anthropological things that bugged me. However, you’re right about his being fairly unselfish.

    I’m more intrigued by the story now. Why is he the one who killed himself?

  8. Colette Jones January 8, 2010 at 5:28 am

    I suppose that is a limitation of the short story that makes it less enticing for me – there is not enough information. Was she trying to say that the future was inevitible given the current state of the family?

    I’ve never studied anthropology. I’m more of a psychology buff, where I would consider nothing is determined. The excerpts from anthropology text books make it sound like a deterministic science. It also sounds a bit all-knowing and therefore annoying! The more I think about those bits, the more I agree with you about them.

  9. KevinfromCanada January 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    There seems to be some problem with mail delivery of my subscription (the Jan. 4 issue is the last that arrived), so I finally read this online. I promise I’ll catch up eventually.

    The story was readable enough (there is a nice cadence to Egan’s prose) but ultimately not very satisfying. I thought the human selfishness angle was well established, but she then wrote herself into three boxes to try to support it. I found the anthropology references (box one) annoying as you two did. She also had to drop in too many under-developed characters (rock musicians, bird watchers, etc.) to keep it going (box two). And then (box three) the thrusts into the disasters of the future, which I thought were a copout — which I think is reflected in the questions you have already raised about the “why” of the future references.

    Still, a readable story. Just not one that sends me scurrying out to read more of Egan.

  10. Trevor Berrett January 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I hope your mail service gets your issues to you, Kevin. I once had a post office mark that I’d moved two times in just a few months. It was frustrating to suddenly stop getting mail.

    Also, thanks for your comments here. I also thought the story read nicely. And I even half-enjoyed the anthropology on one level, though I thought it was ineffective in this story.

  11. Cam November 10, 2011 at 11:26 am

    On the matter of the depth of things to ponder about this book, this story goes way deeper than some think. This story has multiple allusions to Alice in Wonderland:

    1) The “Mat Hatters”

    2) Chronos (The god, or personification, of time (remember the rabbit with the watch always worried about time?))

    3) Lou is like the Queen of Hearts in that they will do all they can to be the top dog.

    4) When describing Mindy, Rolph says: that she is “slender and elastic; she could slip through a keyhole, or under a door.” Does that sound familiar?

    5) The QoH and the rabbit are like Lou and Chronos. Lou basically controls Chronos because he’s the band’s producer.

    See the resemblances?

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