"Ask Me If I Care"
by Jennifer Egan
Originally published in the March 8, 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.

The first author to have two pieces of fiction published in 2010 is Jennifer Egan — and it comes fairly early in the year — “Safari” was published just less that two months ago in the January 11 issue. I didn’t mind that story, but I didn’t like it either.

I’m anxious to see what people thought of this story because for me it is so far the best of the year, just above “Foster,” which I rated highly but not as high as others. Perhaps my enjoyment was because I wasn’t expecting much; I didn’t enjoy “Safari.”

“Ask Me If I Care,” though, was compelling from beginning to end. Often when a short story writer writes about teenage anger it comes across as contrived and overblown, but I think Egan succeeded in making it feel real — or unreal, as the narrator admits.

The story follows a group of teens beginning to experience the adult world in San Francisco just before 1980. The narrator is Rhea, a girl with freckles trying to pose as a punk, but there are no punks with freckles. Rhea has a crush on Bennie who is in a punk band with Scotty. Bennie has a crush on Alice, but we get the impression early on that Alice loves Scotty. Also in the mix is Rhea’s best friend Jocelyn, who has recently been picked up by a forty-year-old man with children named Lou — but this might be good for the group of friends because Lou has a production studio.

What I found so impressive with this story was the writing. It had a rhythm that gave shape and contour to the ugly world these teens face as well as to the subtle realizations Rhea stumbles into. I believe this showcase of writing is what makes this work stand out from other similar stories because the texture makes it feel both soft and ragged at the same time, which is a good way to render a story about teenage angst.

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By |2016-06-08T17:35:44+00:00March 1st, 2010|Categories: Jennifer Egan, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett March 1, 2010 at 11:09 am

    New fiction in The New Yorker this week from Jennifer Egan — who we read just a couple of months ago.

    Forum is up. If you read the story, please leave your impressions for the rest of us.

  2. Joe March 2, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Although I didn’t completely love this story, I found a lot to like. For what it’s worth, I live in San Francisco and can tell you that Jennifer Egan gets the details right, especially about the city in the early 80s.

    This piece makes an interesting contrast to last week’s (“Appetite”), which I dislike more and more with each passing moment. Both stories are about disaffected young adults finding their way among friends, family, and acquaintances. But Egan’s writing seems more mature and confident, the characters better developed.

    On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be very much that’s new or different here. And I had a hard time keeping track of who was attracted to who. Overall, let’s say 3 stars out of 5.

  3. Trevor Berrett March 3, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I found a lot to like too, Joe. My initial thoughts in the post above.

  4. Trevor Berrett March 3, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I also like this week’s Shouts & Murmurs: Not Your Father’s Taliban. Taking his cue from a Times headline that the Taliban is overhauling its image with new media, here’s an excerpt from Any Borowitz’s column.

    Once a week, download Mullah Omar and his posse of theocrats spittin’ mad chatter from their hideout in the mountains near Tora Bora. What will they be talking about? More like, what won’t they be talking about! Movies, video games, Sharia law. And music. The New Taliban™ is all about playlists. Get a taste of the tunes Mullah Omar’s grooving to, from “Livin’ on a Prayer” to “Everybody Must Get Stoned.”

    Got an iPhone? Then you’ll want to download our smokin’ new app, TaliBing™, which shows you your exact location (but not ours — LOL).

  5. KevinfromCanada March 8, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I thought this was a very readable story, but did not have a lot of depth (so I’d rank it behind Foster in the YTD rankings). Certainly a worthwhile read but we knew from Safari that Egan can write.

  6. Colette Jones March 16, 2010 at 4:31 am

    This one didn’t do much for me. Too much detail about who likes who and very little substance to those characters. Unlike others, I didn’t feel the anger or angst much at all with this one. She did better with Safari, in my opinion.

  7. Colette Jones March 17, 2010 at 5:50 am

    I made a note of a sentence early on in the story which I couldn’t understand:

    “…, or Boomer, who’s always hugging everyone since his family did est.”

    What is “est”?

  8. KevinfromCanada March 17, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Colette: “est” was (is?) a touchy-feely self-help movement from the sixties where everyone supported each other by telling them how wonderful they were, with a lot of hugging involved, as the sentence indicates. Highly manipulative, as you might suspect, since those attracted to it tended to lack self confidence in the first place.

  9. Colette Jones March 17, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Ah, thanks Kevin.

  10. Trevor Berrett March 17, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Kevin, that’s a bit of a grouchy definition of “est.” Sounds like someone could use a hug.

  11. KevinfromCanada March 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Aaah, Trevor. Perhaps it is just a reflection of those whom I knew who were into “est”. And the fact that I was an SDS-type left-winger. That would place us poles apart, I admit. :-)

  12. Trevor Berrett June 13, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I didn’t know this at the time, but this appears to be a part of Egan’s new book A Visit from the Goon Squad. Not a book I’d have picked up, but I liked this story enough I just might.

  13. […] A Visit from the Goon Squad after reading the excerpt ”Ask Me If I Care” (click here for my thoughts on the short story and here for my thoughts on the novel); in fact, that excerpt […]

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