"A Death in Kitchawank"
by T. Coraghessan Boyle
Originally published in the January 18, 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.

Besides the great short fiction, there is another benefit to reading fiction in The New Yorker: you get a chance to sample the writing of someone you otherwise would never read. I have never read a book or short story by T.C. Boyle. Frankly, there has never even been the temptation to read one of his books, except for World’s End, and that’s just because it won the PEN/Faulkner. From what I’ve heard of his work, it doesn’t appeal to me.

But then I get the chance to try it here with “A Death in Kitchawank.” I’m afraid I still feel no need to read his work.

The arch of the story takes place over a number of years in a small lake-side community that has to import its hundreds of billions of grains of sand every few years after it has blown away into the grass. That is a nice visual, and it is particularly nice as it also describes the passage of time in this piece. Slow and steady, and always taking things with it. Not only does time cause the characters to drift away as they grow, but we know from the title that somewhere a death is going to happen.

The piece is written well, but to me it was too slow, bogged down by details I didn’t care about. I got really tired while reading it — and I’m pretty sure that was caused by the story and not by anything else. It felt, not unpleasantly at times, that I was sitting in the warm sun on a lakeside, drifting away — but that’s not what I’m looking for when I read.

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By |2016-06-06T14:30:58+00:00January 11th, 2010|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, T. Coraghessan Boyle|Tags: |13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett January 11, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Time to read and discuss T. Coraghessan Boyle’s story in The New Yorker!

  2. Colette Jones January 12, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Well, this is my favourite of the three so far. I have been meaning to read this author for quite some time and have never gotten around to it. More when you’ve been able to read it, Trevor. No rush!

  3. KevinfromCanada January 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Colette reads the story online when it appears. Trevor gets to read it some days later on Tuesday. Kevin gets to wait until Friday or Monday (and the hangover from the holiday mail means I have not even sighted the Jan. 11 issue yet), meaning his opinion is a literary version of a distant echo.

    Which is not always a bad thing.

  4. Trevor Berrett January 12, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Hah! Your voice is all the more powerful because of that Kevin! And speaking of reading, my issue should be waiting for me when I get home tonight. Looking forward to joining you in this discussion, Colette.

  5. Colette Jones January 12, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Hey Guys, I’d much rather read the “real thing” but I know if I subscribed, I might not open it. I have subscribed to TLS and LRB and left them highly unread, but I really liked the letters to the editor in both of those publications.

  6. KevinfromCanada January 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I subscribe to both the TLS and LRB as well and agree completely that the letters are a high point. And, yes, I am a number of issues behind with both — this week has been designated as catch-up week.

  7. Trevor Berrett January 13, 2010 at 9:56 am

    I have been tempted to subscribe to the LRB. What do you think? Kevin, do you have a subscription to the NYRB? I love that one, but with it I’m afraid I’d run into the problem of archiving it rather than reading it — too many articles I’d want to read but couldn’t so I’d never throw it away and would feel too guilty to read the next issue without having read the previous.

    Thankfully, I can get through The New Yorker almost every week. If I don’t, and it’s rare, but I’ve learned to just toss the last issue or tear out the article I simply must read. That’s kept them moving steadily and it also forces me to get through the issues when I know I’m going to put it in the magazine exchange at the beginning of the next week.

  8. KevinfromCanada January 13, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I do subsribe to NYRB and am afraid it tends to become “archive” reading as you describe it — eventually I get around to a free evening and plow through three or four issues. TLS is probably the sub I would abandon first (partly because it comes every week), but then it has the most fiction reviews (and particularly works in translation, where I am weak). LRB and NYRB both have excellent writing and a good mix of commentary and literary reviews (they keep me up to date on non-fiction books — I don’t read many). And the New Yorker, I’ll admit, keeps me going from page one to the end almost every week — I keep thinking I’ll abandon a couple of articles to speed up the reading and almost never do.

  9. Trevor Berrett January 13, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Colette, I’m now interested in your thoughts. I really thought it was long-winded! I am a patient reader, usually, but this one tried my patience. That said, I did like the overall passage of time, but that was all in retrospect. I wouldn’t want to read it again.

    Or perhaps I really was just very tired when I read this story :).

  10. Colette Jones January 14, 2010 at 4:07 am

    It did seem much longer than the other two, even though it is not. I thought it was interesting to see the evolution of the friendship – her maid of honour, therefore best friend. We always think at the time that will be forever, but it rarely is.

    The friendships changed, the relationships within the family changed, etc but what she saw from the kitchen window was physically the same after all those years. Mentally is a different issue.

    One thing I didn’t like much and can’t see the necessity of is the intrusion by the “author” (her son). He did not feature as a major character in the story. What was that all about?

  11. Trevor Berrett January 14, 2010 at 11:42 am

    One thing I didn’t like much and can’t see the necessity of is the intrusion by the “author” (her son). He did not feature as a major character in the story. What was that all about?

    At first, that was what kept me intrigued: how was this intervening author going to fit in. I ended feeling much as you did. I didn’t see any real need for it. It tended to add a bit of gravitas to the early scenes, but in the end that felt superficial to me.

  12. KevinfromCanada January 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I read this online too and it is also my first reading of T.C. Boyle (although I have a copy of his novel from last year around somewhere — I’m afraid the story convinces me it will remain unread for some time).

    Probably what interested me most about this story was the similarity with Egan’s story from the previous week — and also with the stories in Maile Meloy’s Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It which I just finished reviewing. The prose has a similar tone and there are similarities of theme, not to mention the overriding pervasiveness of doom.

    I’d characterize this as a good “magazine” story — unlike Trevor, it kept up my interest — but not much more. Perhaps because of my age, I thought the passage of time (and the selective memory that is involved) worked rather well. Although I have to admit the device of the son’s memory to convey much of that seemed a somewhat lazy intrusion. Also, much as in Egan’s story, Boyle has to include too many undeveloped characters to keep the enterprise going, a frequent shortcoming on some short stories, alas.

    I would certainly put Meloy well ahead of either the Egan or Boyle (any one of the 11 stories in the book, I’d say). She does deal with some similar themes (the fragility of relationships in particular) but does it much more precisely and her central characters become much more full because of that.

  13. Trevor Berrett January 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I read your review of Meloy’s short stories on my way to work today. Sounds like a great collection. Maybe our reactions to these stories are somewhat due to the fact that you were reading Meloy and I was reading Wolff’s short stories.

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