Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Paul La Farge’s “Rosendale” was originally published in the September 29, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

This will surprise many of you, due to my lack of contribution even on stories I’ve enjoyed of late, but I did read this story and am here to say . . . well, very little about it. I didn’t like it much at all, despite being generally favorable to La Farge’s work. And had you told me before I read it that this story had an obtrusive third-person narrator who explicitly transitions to the next part of the story, a pseudo-mother/daughter relationship that (also explicitly) hearkened back to Frankenstein‘s tropes, and a horrific golem, I would have been excited indeed. Add on that he took a character from “Another Life” (thoughts here) and expanded on her here, and I’m in. It just sounded ambitious and fun. But it really fell flat for me.

The young protagonist in this story is April P. As the story begins, she has moved to Rosendale, into the home of Dara — a toucher (April P was not warned) — ostensibly in order to write.

Writing was supposed to be the point of this adventure. April P came here to start another life, one she had barely begun to imagine for herself and still wasn’t sure she deserved. She was going to become April P, the writer. The centerpiece of her transformation was a memoir called “Bar Girl,” about her time tending bar at a notorious Boston hotel. She wrote the first chapter in a memoir workshop at the community college where she was supposed to be studying business communications, and her teacher, Valerie, praised it to the skies. Then, without warning, April P’s heart began to emanate the exciting certainty that she would not stay in Boston. She asked Valerie for advice, and it was Valerie who suggested Rosendale and put her in touch with Dara.

Of course, actual writing hasn’t happened in the first four months. And Rosendale is a town where nothing happens. April P quickly sinks into general apathy, becomes a stripper, and she and Dara are forced to reckon with one another while a golem that Dara created generally terrorizes April P.

But I think my problem can be traced in that paragraph I quoted above. That is a long expository paragraph — and its style does nothing to make it anything but expository — that really says little of interest. At least La Farge let’s us know this in one of the narrator’s interjections about the structure of the story; before long, the narrator says:

But this is all background information. The actual story of Rosendale begins on a rainy Monday evening in March, when Dara comes home and finds April P curled up on the futon in the living room, reading Dara’s copy of “Frankenstein.”

Okay, I was anxious for the story to get going. But, and I feel I’m being unfair, my general impression of “Rosendale” as a whole is much the same as my impression of that “background information.” It all feels rather expository. The effect for me is that it deadened the ultimate emotional impact and made the story’s conclusion, where we see how April P and her writing fit into the story we’re reading, feel clever rather than strong.

In general, then, I feel “Rosendale” is a lot of good ideas put together but never quite polished up. Or, since I cannot imagine it wasn’t polished and put together in just the way La Farge and the editors wanted it, it just feels like it followed the wrong impulses. I’m anxious for anyone’s thoughts, but I’m particularly interested to hear from those who disagree with me. I’d like to see more here than I do at this point.

 

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By |2014-09-26T15:47:50+00:00September 22nd, 2014|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Paul La Farge|Tags: |9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett September 26, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    I’ve added my thoughts above.

  2. Linda Girdon September 26, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Oh boy I am certainly not stupid but to coin a phrase “I don’t get it…”

  3. lotusgreen September 27, 2014 at 3:03 am

    I apologize for being redundant, but…. Another hallucinating druggie?! So soon?!

    The story opens, “Dara lives in a ramshackle white house on top of a steep hill. She is a potter—she works at the ceramics center in town—but her house is full of books: some novels, many thin volumes of poetry, collections of essays on feminism and psychoanalysis, Hungarian cinema, Soviet Jewry, Australian aborigines, Kant, the Kabbalah. Worlds upon worlds.” That was kinda interesting…. I wanted the story to be about Dara!

  4. Paul La Farge September 30, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Hi Folks, I appreciate your comments. I don’t know if it will be any help in the “I don’t get it” department, but I did a Q&A with my editor at the New Yorker, Willing Davidson, in which I tried to explain what I thought the story was doing, or maybe I should say, what I hoped it was doing. You can find it at http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/week-fiction-paul-la-farge. Anyhow, thanks for reading the story and giving it some thought!

  5. Trevor Berrett October 1, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Mr. La Farge. I’m sure it takes a great deal of courage to read what people are writing about your work online — and then to comment :-) .

    I am currently waiting for Betsy’s response to your story. I know she enjoyed it a great deal, so the conversation about “Rosendale” may just be starting!

  6. Greg October 5, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks Paul for posting a comment even though you are being criticized. I always wondered if the authors read this excellent blog!……I enjoyed this story because I go to strip clubs and so I learned about what goes on in the inner life of the dancers. The story now makes me stop to think about what I am doing to these girls. For example, one night “April P wants out of her birthday suit, who writhes with self-consciousness even as the outer April P struts around in black vinyl boots.”…..and then to feel better “after work she drives up to Kingston to buy crack cocaine.”……..now I see the truth in stripping.

  7. Brendan Taylor October 8, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Maybe I’m dense but “Rosendale” and its predecessor “Another Life” worked fine for me. I’m totally invested in the character April P and can’t wait for the next installment of her story, when she gets out of the treatment facility and continues, if not her pursuit of happiness, at least her flight from unhappiness. I’m like the golem in the story, who just wants to protect April from all the sleazebags and false friends out there who are out to get her.

  8. Elno October 9, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Sometimes reading a story that falls flat and is published in one of the country’s most important venues gives a writer some hope that the story inside you, the one you are now working on, could very well be better than the one you’ve just finished reading.

    While I noticed that Mr. La Farge is likely reading this page, I won’t halt myself from stating my true feelings – after finishing this it struck me as a very early (read: likely first) draft that was toying with some interesting ideas but was published on some kind of deadline.

    Clearly, there is a skilled writer behind the story, but boy howdy is this a great example of a story that somehow skipped the editor who would have saved this thing. Probably the worst thing I can say about this story (and I really don’t want to be mean), is that this story was almost immediately forgettable because it so resembled only notes for a possible story and not a story itself.

  9. Madwomanintheattic October 26, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    I didn’t like reading the story (ok, yuck, drugs, strip clubs), but I really do like thinking about it, and maybe that’s part of the author’s intent. His adaptation of the midrashic tradition of many takes, many interpretations to help us perceive complexity in the necessarily truncated short story opens a door into “Rosendale” for me. Like Trevor, I waiting for Betsy on this one.

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