"The Yellow" by Samantha Hunt Originally published in the November 29, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
To me, when an author has a character whose mental stability is in question paint their bedroom yellow, the story must own up to its debt to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It must, at the very least, have some reason for going into debt to “The Yellow Wallpaper.” No, at the very least the fact that the room is yellow must have some meaning. Sadly, that Roy, a forty-two year old who has been forced to move in with his parents again, has painted his room yellow is no more important than the unmentioned color of his bedspread. Which is much how I feel about most of this story: there are a lot of things set up as if they are important, but it seems nothing adds up, that Hunt is throwing in details that, like the her metaphors, despite the fact that they might be attractive, come to nothing.
After Roy paints his room yellow, he feels a surge of energy. He wants to become better, and he’s sure he can. In this state, he goes for a drive. Meanwhile, we learn that Susanne is at home alone. Her husband took the three children out for the evening so Susanne could have a mini-meltdown. She, too, is in a heightened state.
Enter Curtains, Susanne’s dog, who runs out in front of Roy’s car. At this point in the story, I’m doing okay. I’m somewhat miffed that there’s no apparent meaning behind the yellow walls, but I’m fine with the story. Roy carries the dog to the home where Susanne is vacuuming. In moments, Roy and Susanne are having sex (an “urgently time-sensitive experiment” — isn’t urgent time-sensitive? and why is this an experiment?) on the floor by the dead dog. “In the shock of this unexpected coupling, he pinned her to the floor and she was a bird.” That’s the last we hear of that bird metaphor, and I have no idea what it means in this context.
Suddenly, Roy is startled when Curtains starts licking him. It is an extraordinary moment for both of them, obviously. And, as the story continues, that seems to be the point. It is an extraordinary moment that takes these two individuals out of their ordinary days. It is sad that they have to go back to reality.
To be fair, Hunt’s writing is fluid and propelling. If it weren’t for the strange figurative language that never seemed to say anything, I’d say it was good writing spent on a sugar-high story of fluff. At any rate, I didn’t like it.