"The Landlord" by Wells Tower Originally published in the September 13, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
Despite all of the hype, I never got into Wells Tower’s debut collection of short stories Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. I tried a story or two from it but didn’t finish them. To be fair, I never really gave it much of a chance, attempting to read the stories here and there when other things were going on. And it wasn’t that I didn’t like them; they just weren’t interesting to me at the time. Because I never felt I gave him a chance, I was looking forward to his offering for the “20 Under 40” (which is, incidentally, almost over; just Chris Adrian and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie left).
Well, I felt for “The Landlord” much as I felt for whatever I tasted from the short story collection. It was written well enough, I was never bored; I just never really cared, and it was easy to put down (which I did several times this morning, starting the story at 5 a.m. and finishing it sometime around 1 p.m.).
This story centers on a landlord during the recent financial slowdown / meltdown. There are a few different sets of characters he is dealing with — a tenant who has gone to his church to help him pay his back rent, a couple of employees going to Idaho to do some fixer-upper job, a single woman tenant he is attracted to, his artistic daughter who is covering up the fact that she’s ashamed that, at age 31, she is moving back in with her father. She wants to do an art piece that is “[t]o some extent, your problems with the real-estate stuff, and my parallel humiliation at having to move in with you.” It turns out that her project turns into variations on the creature from the Black Lagoon.
Watching these story lines develop was never a chore, the writing was fine, and I was interested in all of the characters — just not very.