Saïd Sayrafiesadeh: “Appetite”

Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Saïd Sayrafiesadeh’s “Appetite” was originally published in the March 1, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.

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Last night I read this short story on the way home from work.  I have indicated elsewhere that I am not a February person.  With all the false starts to Spring, I start to get cranky!  Surprisingly, that worked for this story — at least somewhat.

First, I liked the way the story opened.  The narrator is nervously trying to figure out how to ask for a raise.  We know it’s not a great job because he wants a raise from $8 to $10 (or to $10 from $8, or up to $10, etc.).  It’s nothing new, but I felt the writing didn’t get in the way, and, as I said above, February may have affected me: either I sympathized with the poor guy, or I liked watching him squirm.

Turns out the narrator is on a dead-end job at a cheap restaurant, the kind where you might get a grilled cheese sandwich that is burned on the outside but where the cheese is not melted.  He’s 25 and resents the high school valedictorian who said something along these lines: “some of us will go to college, some of us to the military, and some of us will immediately join the work force.”

The story takes on a new dimension about halfway through when an annorexic girl joins the workforce at the restaurant as a new waiter.  I’m not sure I followed all that comes after, and, sadly, I didn’t really care to put forth the work necessary to follow the story.  And I don’t think it was February because the story had already been at least somewhat enjoyable.  That’s not to say it was a complete failure — I’m just going to tack this one up as a below par week but not an out-and-out stinker.

12 thoughts on “Saïd Sayrafiesadeh: “Appetite””

  1. The forum for this week’s New Yorker offering is up. Feel free to comment.

  2. Joe says:

    After two stories in a row that I really enjoyed (Bolaño, Keegan), I have to say I had a pretty rough time with this one.

    First, a lot of the writing felt amateurish to me. There are too many inelegant sentences that sound like a high school student trying to impress his teacher. For example, “In the rare instances that things did not follow accordingly, the onus was, of course, on you and your own ineptitude.”

    And looking at the bigger picture, there doesn’t seem to be much insight here. There’s something too easy (and even offensive?) about the character of the “anorexic waitress” and the connection between the narrator and the waitress in the last few paragraphs feels unmotivated.

    I’m eager to hear what others think… maybe I’ve missed something!

  3. By the way, yesterday I posted my thoughts on the forum, but I forget that there is no way of knowing that from my homepage unless I leave a comment. So — here is my announcement! Not great, not terrible, not to me, anyway.

  4. Joe, I agree with your assessment of the ending. I didn’t like it much at all, though I was pretty blah’ed out by that time and didn’t care. I did like the beginning — well, that’s too strong — I found the beginning easy to get into, which I think, when struck against the ending, kind of balanced this story out just to the negative side of even.

  5. Colette Jones says:

    I didn’t have any sympathy for the narrator. He seemed to want a raise but didn’t bother to do his job very well. I think that may have been part of the point – he wants things for nothing. If he can’t make a grilled cheese sandwich, does he even deserve the job, let along a raise? Another example: He doesn’t take the office job because it’s going to take some effort to get there every day.

    What did the waitress have to do with anything, and what is the significance of the ending? I don’t know.

  6. I rather liked this story. Perhaps influenced by the author’s name, I did assume that while the narrator might be “white” he does not come from a long line of Americans. And I did find a certain poignancy in the way he was screwing up us courage to ask for a $2 raise after seven years on the job, when the yearly increment appears to be 25 cents. I was willing to forgive him his failures with grilled cheese — we had a fascinating discussion the other night with a friend that clearly showed three people had three very, very different opinions about what the perfect grilled cheese is (I voted for Kraft processed pretty much glued to the bread, our friend much prefers real cheddar that is not completely melted).

    And I thought the anorexic waitress was a symbol for how low “hope” can go when you are stuck in dead-end circumstances. The fact that she picked him up and toyed with him (“pretty boy”) just underlined how far back in the pack he ranks.

    Despite those thoughts, it was still a story that was just on the positive side of neutral for me.

  7. I think we felt similarly about the story, Kevin, only he lost my positive side of nuetral toward the end, landing just on the negative side.

    By the way, as a foodie, how can you like a grilled cheese made with Kraft? It’s lunch time for me right now, and that still doesn’t tempt :) . My preferred method is sharp cheddar grilled with a cover so all the cheese melts while the outside gets golden brown.

  8. Grilled cheese with Kraft cheese? Childhood memory. Now I will say that in the three years we lived in Pittsburgh, we did discover an American processed cheddar that was even better — it got every bit as gooey and had way more taste. And I will also admit that I make a lot more with sharp cheddar than with Kraft — what would I do with the other seven slices?

    Don’t get me going on miniature marshmellows.

  9. I should also admit that I was very sympathetic to the burnt bread, unmelted cheese issue. Mrs. KfC almost always gets a version of that, but after one test run (hers) the next (mine) comes out perfect.

  10. Mrs. Berrett says:

    Miniature marshmallows? I would like to get you started on that.

    As a side note, the tangy zip of Miracle Whip seriously improves a grilled cheese sandwich.

  11. We do have a container of Miracle Whip in the fridge and it does come out (usually with chicken or turkey sandwiches). Not with grilled cheese, I must say.

    And I will only respond when it comes to miniature marshmellows, although I suspect those with young children know much more about that hazard than I do.

  12. We are lucky enough in our household to enjoy Mrs. Berrett’s home-made marshmellows, Kevin, though I’m not sure we’ve avoided all of the hazards of having them in a house with children. Still, I think these are worth it, where the minis might not be :).

    On a similar note, Kevin, I didn’t know you cooked, though I knew you appreciated food. I’m no fancy chef, but Sherry did tell me the other day that when she’s rich she’d pay for me to go to a culinary arts school — because she knows I like cooking, not because she was disappointed in anything I made recently.

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