Justin Taylor: “After Ellen”

Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers).  Justin Taylor’s “After Ellen” was originally published in the August 13 & 20, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.

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I have never heard of Justin Taylor, but, as a young author (one book of short stories and one novel so far), I’m glad to see him in The New Yorker. That said, despite some initial interest, I don’t feel that excited about the story itself. I finished reading it a couple of days ago, but I’m having a hard time summoning the energy to post my meager thoughts.

All of that isn’t to say “After Ellen” is a bad story; for me, it was decent story (I’m sure I’d rather write about a bad story, honestly).

At the beginning of the story, our central character Scott is just finishing his cowardly move to pack up his “half of everything they own” while Ellen is away at an internship with the film festival. He can still back out of this move, which will surely shock Ellen, but he doesn’t. He actually gets in the Jetta (leaving her without a car) and drives away — to where? He has only a vague idea, and he doesn’t get there anyway. It’s hard to say just why he is leaving, and the only explanation he leaves Ellen is a small note: “I wasn’t ready and am so sorry but swear this will have been the right thing for us.” He signs his name, leaving enough room in case he wants to add a “Love.” He doesn’t, which is only right.

Scott comes from what he considers to be a fairly domineering Jewish ancestry. He and Ellen (not a Jew) lived in Portland, and his parents really just couldn’t understand why he’d leave Long Island. Obviously, a feeling that other forces are governing his life is one of the reasons he’s leaving Ellen (whom we never do meet). The bulk of this story takes place in the months “after Ellen.” He has no idea where he’s going, and, interestingly, he gets a dog through dubious means and begins to shape a life much like the one he abandoned before.

It’s all decently written, decently constructed, and decently enjoyable to read, but as much as I wanted to enjoy it even more it just didn’t quite get there for me.

4 thoughts on “Justin Taylor: “After Ellen””

  1. Jon says:

    I was predisposed to dislike this story, as I quickly saw it as “hipster-lit” (and part of TNY’s effort to increase its circulation among that demographic). So I tried to be extra non-judgmental to compensate.

    I agree the story is decently constructed and written, and not unenjoyable to read, but considering where it’s being published, I thought it was just a bad story.

    The tone is just all over the place (and not deliberately). Many of the images and asides just stick out oddly from the flow of the story, and to my senses, never fit. Also, the themes of the story feel white-boarded out, as opposed to deeply felt.

    All in all, this was something I’d expect to read in my Continuing Education writing workshop…

  2. Ken says:

    I agree with the consensus here. Decently crafted but what’s the point. Either it’s a simple depiction of the most hateful sort of character or it’s a satire of the vacuity of the hipster. The list of favorite bands seems to suggest the latter, especially the condescending “obvs” after the list includes only Pinkerton (which is the hipster favorite) among Weezer records. Either way, I basically hated the main character and everything he represents-entitlement, passivity, spinelessness, dishonesty. Once upon a time I fantasized about an episode of Absolutely Fabulous where the two were sent to prison which ended with them scarred and miserable, crying themselves to sleep in their cell. Here, I’d love to see this nasty little jerk forced to work at a McDonald’s in Van Nuys or San Mateo and live in a one-bedroom apartment in the same neighborhood.

  3. Aaron says:

    Oh, thank goodness. I was so worried that I was just sniping or coming across as bitter/jealous of someone of my generation who is actually getting published. This was a pointless story, with a lot of wasted moments and HUGE tonal imbalances, to say nothing of all the stereotypes, the travel-guide descriptions, the shallowest of depictions of Olivia and Ellen, and of course all of the telling that this required Taylor to do. I believe this guy teaches (or has taught) at Gotham Writer’s Workshop in New York City . . . this story seems about equal to some of the best work I’ve seen in those classrooms, which is about as backhanded a compliment I can give.

    Like Trevor, I’d rather write about a bad story than a mediocre one (that’s made worse only by dint of its publication in a major magazine), so I was surprised, I guess, to have written so much about it on my blog. http://bit.ly/TBycC5

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