"After Ellen" by Justin Taylor Originally published in the August 13 & 20, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.
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.