"The Warm Fuzzies" by Chris Adrian Originally published in the September 27, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
Chris Adrian rounds out The New Yorker‘s 20 Under 40 fiction (and in a month and a half, he will be forty). I’ve been waiting for this offering all summer — Adrian is one of my recent favorites. I’ve touted it on this site before, but I can’t help mentioning “A Tiny Feast,” which was published in 2009 — a wonderful story.
I write this post a few weeks after the piece was published, and I’ve already seen that some of the commenters below didn’t like it. I can definitely understand their viewpoint. I agree with some of what they say. However, I still liked this story. It is far from my favorite Chris Adrian story, but it still retains his knack for easy prose that just slips right along and, if you’re not careful, does so without anything remarkable happening.
In “The Warm Fuzzies,” Adrian, who attended Harvard Divinity School, visits a Christian household of the type where this happens:
Then her parents woke up one morning — without having seen a vision or having experienced a dark night of the soul — with a new understanding of their lives’ purpose. They both took up the guitar, never having played before, and started to praise Jesus in song.
Molly is one of the daughters, and she is the principal character in the story. When we begin the story, Paul, Molly’s new foster brother, is playing the tambourine in the back by Molly. All of the new kids get the tambourine, though none stick around for very long. Without fully making fun of this household, Adrian explores what, to most of us, are its quirks. But under the surface is a much more intimate and sad story.
Molly accepts that what her parents do is right, but for some reason it isn’t making her life any better. At mealtime, everyone is supposed to say one thing they are grateful for.
Molly had been feeling a little panicked lately when her turn approached. There was a lot to be grateful for — the whole point of uttering one’s gratitudes was just that. It was meant to be easy, a nightly reminder that they lived their lives surrounded by visible and invisible bounty. But sometimes, out of sheer nervousness, Molly failed to think of anything, and sometimes the things that popped into her head were not the things she was supposed to be grateful for: the way her breasts were exactly the same size, while Mary’s and Malinda’s looked like they had traded four markedly different boobs between them; the way it felt when she rested all her weight on the tapering edge of her bicycle seat; the way Jordan’s right eye had been ever so slightly out of sync with his left eye.
She is nice, “but only about half as nice as everyone supposed her to be.” We get a sense of that when Molly talks with Mary and Malinda. We also get a sense that her life is operating on a different plane than the harmony her parents believe in. Molly, for example, doesn’t understand why they keep bringing in foster kids.
It would have been tantamount to suggesting that they cast Jesus out of the household to say that an end should be put to the endless stream of foster brothers and sisters who had been coming and going in the seat next to her for as long as she could remember. But she wondered if it reduced the sum total of anybody’s suffering to keep him around for a few months in a situation that ultimately did nobody’s life any good, that changed nothing in anybody’s life, that only rearranged some things for a little while. But that was like wondering if they should stop playing and singing because their songs did not in fact enter into people’s hearts and make them love themselves and each other and Jesus, who mediated all love of any kind, the love clearinghouse and the love circuit board.
Paul, however, is different. With the beat of the tambourine, he and Molly communicate without words. Things go terribly wrong.
As I said above, I get why people didn’t like this story, but, with little effort, it is certainly one of the top ten of the 20 Under 40 crowd. And in comparison to the others, it is fresh. Some of the images may be familiar as objects of derision, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an author work within a similar household.