Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Rebecca Curtis’s “The Pink House” was originally published in the Jun 30, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.

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Betsy

Rebecca Curtis doesn’t like to gussy anything up — make a story pretty, do the lyric trick on life, or put a gloss on a wart. She delights in the offensive as a purchase on trustworthiness. Nevertheless, she does think people need some help if they’re going to read about a jerk, and it’s quite apparent she thinks people need to read about what jerks we can be. “The Pink House” uses the ghost story told at the dinner party as the enticement people need to stay with a story that features a heroine who truly is a “self-righteous jerk.” I have to say I think the ghost story gimmick works, partly because the ghost story is being told as an after dinner entertainment at  a dinner party for writers. Thus, writing is the other preoccupation, and Curtis delivers — every so often, she zings it up with some good dish on the writing life.

And then, of course, there is the basic question: what is it to be successful? How do you get there?

The middle-aged writer is remembering how she might have ruined a man. Is it because she rented an apartment sight unseen that had a ghost? Or is it because she was a selfish, manipulative jerk?

I enjoyed this story far more than a recent one by her, “The Christmas Miracle” (thoughts here). This one feels tighter, even though it is a bit of a shaggy dog story. One of her dinner guests concurs with me: just when I thought “where is this going?” he surfaces to remark that the story’s overlong. But I liked the dish on the writing world so much I kept going. The narrator says, for instance, that she was rejected by Fiction in the Syracuse MFA program, could only get into Poetry.

But be warned. Curtis revels in the offensive. Her niche seems to be as the stand-up of short story writers: Will say anything! Dare me! It’s a fine line. As she says, if you can kick a beer can in just the right way, at just the right time of night, in just the right light, it can “flash like a star.” You be the judge.

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