Samantha Hunt: “The Yellow”

Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Samantha Hunt’s “The Yellow” was originally published in the November 29, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.

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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.

7 thoughts on “Samantha Hunt: “The Yellow””

  1. Finally posted a forum for last week’s story here!

  2. Thomas says:

    Good to see you’re alive, Trevor!

    I felt “The Yellow” was a good story overall. Initially, I was a bit hesitant to the idea of Roy running over the dog. It felt too much like a unoriginal plot-device, but I was happy with the direction Samantha Hunt took. I’m a sucker for anything supernatural.

    Still a bit unclear as to the ending. The wife will be forced to reckon with the “brightness” she experienced avec/Roy when she sees the dog at her door, and eventually this brightness may diminish to something “unastonishing” (as life sometimes does), but what about Roy? He seems to still be stuck in the same place.

    All in all, not the best story I’ve ever read, but it was decent enough.

  3. I skipped Doctorow’s story to read this shorty. My thoughts above.

    Thomas, I see we diverge quite a bit on this one! Where the story picked up for you it fell for me.

  4. Thomas says:

    I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t even think about Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” (which I read years ago, but still recall the goosebumps it gave me by the end). Perhaps if I had seen the obvious link between the two I would have been more frustrated.

    I’m still waiting for a story that wows me. Here’s to next week!

  5. Ken says:

    I liked this a lot. I don’t know the story by Gilman so I have no comment there. I agree that the portents in the story may not add up but I’d attribute it to ambiguity. The characters are possibly heightened, possibly crazy, possibly both and their consciousnesses are coming up with some odd, metaphorical images. I liked the moodiness and mystery here and also thought it was very well-written.

  6. Betsy says:

    The story’s main pull for me was the situation – that Roy is forty-two and back home again. A nightmare. Which is exactly what ensues. The story manages to convey our sense of how stupendous the transformation is going to have to be to be able to escape the present. As it was – Gilman’s heroine did not escape. I liked that possibility in the background, given how ghastly this recent crash has been for some of us. So Roy’s dream/hallucination/nightmare makes sense.

  7. Tim says:

    I almost feel like I might need to re-read this story after everyone’s comments. The first time through it felt forced and I didn’t buy into Roy or Susanne’s actions.

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