Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Justin Taylor's "So You're Just What, Gone?" was originally published in the May 18, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

May 18, 2015

Welcome to this week’s discussion! While in the past we’ve had a kind of main post up above the comments bar, lately the activity has been below. We are going to keep this going, and all are invited.

This is Justin Taylor’s second story in The New Yorker. His first story was “After Ellen,” published in the August 6, 2012 issue (our thoughts — I didn’t much care for it — here). I don’t know much else about his work, so if you have insights please share.

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By |2015-05-13T12:23:10-04:00May 11th, 2015|Categories: Justin Taylor, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett May 13, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    I’d like some thoughts from all of you.

    I’m sure it’s evident in my absence, but I’ve lost interest in The New Yorker, at least as a place to go weekly for new fiction. I started reading the magazine regularly in 2000 and I started blogging about it regularly in 2009. For the past year or so I’ve wanted to keep reading it and contributing here mostly because I love the discussions and because I dream of my old enthusiasm. But I’ve decided to let my subscription lapse this year, and this is the first issue I don’t have coming to my door. I’m not sad. I know the magazine will continue to publish excellent stuff, and I plan to pay attention and latch onto the things that interest me most.

    So, what do we do here? You’ve all been doing an excellent job keeping the conversation alive despite my absence. That doesn’t surprise me. But you’ve also been keeping it up in Betsy’s absence! She has definitely been a strong voice here, and I’m sure she encouraged many of you to read and respond. She may come back and resume her posts, but I’m not sure. I certainly am only going to encourage her to do it if she loves it.

    I’d like to put up the referral post above so that people who’ve found a community here can keep coming, and I hope you do. I do plan to read the stories that excite me . . . if they get another William Trevor or Alice Munro I’ll be all over it. In the meantime, if any of you have ideas for how to make the above post a bit more lively, helpful, or suitable to the new (well, not new, but now explicit) arrangement, I’d love to hear it.

  2. Adrienne May 13, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    I am SO ready to talk about this story!

    I am always taken aback when stories are graphic, but I soldiered on – and found this an important story as well as a superbly crafted tale. The world of technology and the world of sexuality cross paths inviting the protagonist to an event she only partially understands.

    Justin Taylor created a flawless female teen voice. The details in her observations are well-articulated and the emotional ups and downs of Charity’s life are charted with perfection. Her mother, her grandmother, the “way older” man, her friend, her maybe-boyfriend… There is SO much here. Just the act of trying to pass another passenger on a plane is covered with clarity.

    I really loved the ending – the dual worlds that teens live in is expressed quite well in the aquarium scene. And my favorite line? “…peeking in the doorway of a bar or the teacher’s lounge – someplace you could get in trouble for going into but were curious to glimpse the inside of, just to be able to say you knew what was in there.” We’ve all been there. We are welcomed back into a world we left behind and it gave me chills.

  3. Jan Guerin May 13, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    while I find a teen-aged narrator a bit difficult to connect with, I struggled in more ways than simply point-of-view. I agree with Adrienne that the intersection of technology and burgeoning sexuality is certainly a post modern trope, but I also found it creepy. Not creepy in a “oh, he’s a pervert” or “poor kid” sort of creepy; just plain creepy. Life his first NYorker story, “After Ellen” there are the characters who are entitled and self-centered and they are well described, but they remain undeveloped. They are people I don’t know in life and if I did know them I’m certain I wouldn’t like them…at all. They use social media to shock and comment on their lives, but their lives are very uninteresting. I believe that was the authors point so in that result it was effective but it doesn’t take me someplace I want to go.

  4. Trevor Berrett May 14, 2015 at 11:39 am

    After all that above, I did read this story.

    Things I liked: The third-person close narrator, nicely tracking a teenage female voice. The way this teenage voice navigates through the events, the fog of her childish incomprehension just starting to lift, though still very present.

    That last part, in particular, helped me admire the story quite a bit. To me, that seemed to be what it was about: the interplay of the voice and the lifting fog. I’m afraid that without this I didn’t care much for the story, but, again, I don’t really think the story was about anything else.

  5. lotusgreen May 14, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    I have so many mixed reactions to this, the story, the trevor, the betsy, etc. I’ve been feeling like the nay-sayer, the kid who yells, “But he’s naked!” But now it’s clear: I’m not the only one. Trevor — look at the bright side — they might get a new fiction editor! I do truly miss Betsy as well, it’s true, but I’m ashamed to admit that it’s her ability to breathe fearlessness into the timid that may be a large part of the reason. That she can disagree and encourage at the same time is quite a gift.

    Trevor, I suspect our tastes, yours and mine, differ enough that there’ll never be a “venue,” a particular magazine, or publisher, whatever, for which we’d share avidity. (I, by the way, do plan to renew; if I read it only for the fiction, I might not be as sure, but I don’t.)

    I probably will continue to show up here as well, if conversation is regularly generated; I like the practice of periodic review. I’ve done nothing like it since high school and it sharpens one.

    So. I wonder if Charity had any consciousness of the wisdom in her reaction, in the end, to Mr. Perv. I too was surprised to hear her voice coming so naturally out of a grown man, but come it certainly did. So while I enjoyed the style, the maintenance of perspective, etc., perhaps it’s just that my tastes in fiction have something old-fashioned in them, but I wanted someone to learn something. It’s that question I seem to return to: the point of fiction. Is it enough that it be as pointless as real life, or do we want our art to act, sometimes, as a bridge?

  6. Adrienne May 14, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    @lotusgreen:
    I have old-fashioned tastes as well… And so these “grittier” stories are hard to appreciate at times, and then FINDING the point is like discovering a haystack with no needle. I believe the purpose of fiction is a weird cross between Chekhov’s theory that writers pose problems and not solutions, and John Gardner’s idea that fiction had a moral purpose – the emotional/moral arc of the character is evident.

    I think a “bridge” is a great metaphor… I see some learning but it is a lot more subtle in its shift than novels/stories used to be. I DO put down some stories and say: “What?! What was the point of THAT one?” And some I have seen more as vignettes rather than stories (“My Life is a Joke”!!).

    Maybe the short story is mirroring something happening to the art of living life – no one is really trying to “suck the marrow” out of it anymore…

  7. Roger May 14, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    The point of this story, I think, was to draw us readers into feeling the poignancy of Charity’s situation, the contradictory pushes and pulls. She wants her independence from her mom, but at the same time she wants to be part of that group of little kids getting the tour of the aquarium. She wants to text snarky things about her grandmother, yet she’s also frightened by Grams’s condition. We hear the grandmother blurt out something about Charity’s past, to the effect that she’s grown up without a father, who ditched her pregnant mother. At the same time, the “way older” Mark Perv is hitting on her, intriguing and repulsing her. I like how Taylor gives us access to the consciousness of this particular teenage girl, to her bravado and vulnerability. The superb style is critical to the story, but mainly because it’s put in the service of the emotions that are revealed to us, and maybe in us.

    I hope the discussion in here keeps going strong. Trevor, I’m grateful you’re going to keep the forum alive even if you won’t be doing the above-the-line posts or reading all the stories. If you decide to track short stories found in a literary magazine or elsewhere, I hope you’ll let us know so we can follow that blog.

  8. Archer May 14, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    I’m in the minority here, but I actually didn’t find the story’s teenage voice particularly convincing. The notion of the American teenager as sullen and capricious, full of phrases such as “like” and “you know” might be realistic to a degree, but it reads kind of cliched in print. Granted, an authentic, compelling adolescent voice is really hard to pull off, and I can only think of a few examples where I feel it’s been done successfully (Salinger, Munro).

    Trevor, I think we’re in the same boat. The New Yorker has been an important part of my development as a reader. So much great, iconic stuff has been published in its pages throughout its long history — from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to the stories of Nabokov, Updike, Cheever, etc. But, in my view, the quality of its fiction has declined considerably in recent years. There are still worthy pieces, but they’re fewer and further between these days. I don’t know if it’s because of the current editorial team, or just due to the current literary climate. But, with authors like Alice Munro and William Trevor slowing down or stopping altogether, and once-maverick voices like George Saunders and Lorrie Moore firmly in the mainstream, it does feel like a new age. And I’m not sure it’s an age that particularly interests me.

    All that said, I expect I’ll always check in with the magazine to see what’s the latest story, if only out of habit. And I’ll surely continue to check in here no matter what. There have been some wonderful discussions on this site.

  9. Julian Wyllie May 14, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    I really enjoyed this story. I see that other readers above are not satisfied with New Yorker fiction anymore but as a young reader and writer myself (I’m 21) these kinds of stories interest me a lot. Yes, the “young narrator” voice was a little forced. I understand that my generation says “like” a lot but this was, like, a little over the top. But overall, this story made me laugh because it was so honest and ridiculous.

    The references to Instagram hearts and followers were satisfying and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the image of Mark the Perv’s phallus which was described with this beauty of a sentence: “He replies with a closeup of his cock, its skin nubbled and flushed, a shiny pearl of semen in the opening, which Charity has never before had occasion to notice is vertical, like a vagina.” WOW. Maybe that at’s a sucky line to others but to me that was pure comedic genius. Well done I must say.

    It’s not a perfect story by all means but it was entertaining and I will not ask for more than that.

  10. lotusgreen May 15, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    This whole discussion has led me through some very interesting thoughts. What is fiction, what is it for, what do we want from it? I wondered about earliest fiction, The Odyssey, say. Essentially, it seemed to me, the reasons for telling stories were varied, but wanting to know what happened was chief among them, and not just the physical journey, but the mental one as well. What temptations were overcome? What firm vision held steadfast behind the eyes guided the journeyer on?

    There are of course the manipulative reasons: to teach, to indoctrinate, to sway, but the Bible is not a book of short stories; instead it is a collection of parables imparting the imperishable truths which must be accepted for membership. It is a story beginning with an open door, sending peoples to wander, and closed with the door slammed firmly shut behind the wanderers returned.

    Fiction begins with the slammed door, and works towards the open one. The “Aha!” moment. The making of room where none had existed. The understanding of a blip on the radar indistinguishable up to that point.

    However, there is another perspective. When fiction “began,” everything “happened for a reason.” Not that that is not still working language, but there is a large coherent element of the population for whom those reasons are imparted by the experiencer. Is that population highly represented by the story tellers in the New Yorker? May just be. Does “the new fiction” reflect that? And then what of the storyteller’s unwillingness or inability to make that final step, to allow that door to open?

    Or is it the fascinating question Adrienne asks, “Maybe the short story is mirroring something happening to the art of living life – no one is really trying to “suck the marrow” out of it anymore.” Could that be true? I’d tend to doubt it as I don’t think that much changes over millennia, and that those percentages stay roughly the same. But in another way, she asks the same question I do, if we are seeing a whole change of perception of the world played out in this fiction, and if so, just what change is that?

  11. Adrienne May 15, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    I have heard that fiction is to entertain and educate. To amuse us while imparting some experiential learning we might not achieve in another way.

    Fiction is story and story tells truth (universal truths tapping into a collective unconscious) and creates connection (we are all just people). I agree with lotusgreen that people still want something (generally the same things even) out of life, but the vehicles/experiences in how we get there are changing somewhat. It’s just a dog with a different sweater – but still a dog, and still a sweater.

    And while I think the New Yorker may have once been the “standard”, now there are so many other outlets for the art of fiction. 47 stories each year, I think, so why are they choosing what they are? Where are the great stories going? Some land here. Some go somewhere else… Or are we just in a lull waiting for a renaissance to brighten?

    Lotugreen: “Fiction begins with the slammed door, and works towards the open one. The “Aha!” moment. The making of room where none had existed. The understanding of a blip on the radar indistinguishable up to that point” I love this description.

    And I agree that we need more writers who can lead us to the open door. And even incite the “aha”… What are we, the readers, not bringing to the table, as well?

    So with THIS story: did it remind me what is was like to be a teenager? Yes. I connected. And the truth behind the dichotomous emotions of those days, I recognized. The “aha” for me was the single moment when she followed the school group in the aquarium… It was not an “AHA!” (maybe that final step lotusgreen refers to), but it was a subtle shift Charity made back into a situation she knew and understood.

    I have only been reading The New Yorker fiction for the last six months, so my disappointment is not as keen as others, only because I am not sure of what I have missed. I have read the authors mentioned in other settings, and I agree they were fantastic. I am hoping that we are just in a holding pattern and more will emerge.

  12. Trevor Berrett May 15, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    This has been a fascinating discussion that I want to delve into better when I have some more time. It certainly wasn’t the intent when I posted above, but what a wonderful outcome.

    I like to think that fiction’s purpose is to enrich. Entertain? Sometimes. Educate? That might be related to enriching, but I think it’s slightly different, as well as being a slightly more suspect goal.

    Anyway, I just got dragged away for a half hour and am about to again, so I’ll have to come back to expand on this.

  13. Myrna Gottlieb May 15, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Trevor- I was thinking of letting my subscription lapse as well. I’ve been an avid reader of their short fiction; but I have been disappointed (not interested) in several of the recent offerings. And I just received a renewal notice for $89, which is $20 more than I paid last year- so I’d pretty much decided not to renew. But I checked Amazon, and they are offering a year of The New Yorker at $69- same as last year-and that price is good for renewals as well as new subscriptions. For renewals you must enter a shipping address that exactly matches the info on your mailing label, and the publisher will know to extend your existing subscription. So I’m giving The New Yorker one more year.

  14. olseeeeeeee May 15, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    me too. I stopped subscribing to The New Yorker ever since Junot declared that he’s done with short stories.

  15. lotusgreen May 15, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    A few meta- comments —

    1. When you phone to renew (that’s how I’ve gotten the best rates), ask for two years. I think you may be able to find lower than $70/yr.

    2. Note to Julian Wyllie: You comment on the comments on the teenaged girl’s voice coming from an older (maybe even way older) man. I think you may have a related problem. By proclaiming yourself to be 21 and then offering such a cohesive and charming commentary some people may shake their heads with a similar suspicion!

    3. Things may seem to be falling apart; here in this group, that the center cannot hold. But perhaps anarchy need not be loosed upon this group. While I have no clear idea of specific ways it might work, nor am I willing to offer any more time or organization to the group than I do now, I have ideas to toss out.

    Not looking for free form, and not nominating myself, but what if stories (or books?) that had nothing to do with the New Yorker were discussed, and offered by anyone. As I type this, I realize it has something very wrong with it: these discussions only work because we have all read the same thing, and there’s unlikely any other venue common to even two of us. Anyway — that’s why I’m just tossing….

    4. Back to the discussion, whither fiction? I’m finding it interesting to look at potential comparisons with other art forms. Does all art have the same mission, roughly? How do they differ? How does what we ask of a short story differ from what we ask of a symphony?

  16. Julian Wyllie May 15, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    I did not think my reply was that charming but I appreciate the compliment! I’m truly humbled by your remarks and I can assure you that I am 21! Well, I’ll be 21 in July but who’s counting besides the bouncer?

    My goal was to communicate why this particular story is interesting even though it’s not the usual New Yorker quality fiction. I can totally understand why other people did not like it but I would encourage an open-mind with this particular piece.

    I’m also saddened that other readers here aren’t happy with their New Yorker subscriptions. This week, I read at least three stories that were not only interesting, they were also powerful in tone as well.

    For one, there was a story towards the back of the magazine about a brain surgeon who is beginning to feel sorrow about all of the surgeries that went wrong. My heart went out to that man because he saved many lives but he can only remember the failures.

    There was another story about a pioneer in web technology who now runs a venture capitalist firm. It was fascinating to read about because I had no idea how those kinds of companies functioned in the marketplace. In a nutshell, Facebook, Instagram, Uber and many advancing technologies are thriving today because of angel investing and the concept behind start-up capital and innovation.

    Finally, I read one story about a video game that aims to replicate a vast universe of billions of functional planets. I have no interest for video games besides NBA 2k basketball but it was terribly cool to learn about programming, video game funding and all of that nerdy jazz.

    What I’m trying to say overall is that I’m completely happy with my subscription unlike the readers above me. The New Yorker is the only magazine I read religiously and I always come away learning something that I couldn’t find anywhere else. It takes courage to write 10 page long form articles in the modern era. No one seems to like reading anymore so I applaud the magazine for courageously producing content that not only teaches but also inspires the writer in me to explore things that I wouldn’t normally care about.

  17. lotusgreen May 15, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    21? Son, you’re barely a day older than 20 1/2!

  18. Trevor Berrett May 16, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    I will be joining in next week: it’s a story by Dorthe Nors!

  19. Adrienne May 17, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    @lotusgreen – I do not ask the same thing from all art forms – even within genres. I just enjoy what I enjoy – in books, stories, poetry, music, paintings, etc. I do not even think I ask much – I go towards the art with curiosity and see what happens! And then I love to tell people what happened.

    Do you have something you seek/expect from art? And is it different depending on what form it takes?

  20. Ben May 18, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    What were the two words? And what was the point of the ending of the story?

  21. lotusgreen May 18, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    Adrienne– I’ve been thinking about your question…. and since I haven’t tried to answer it before my answer can only be tentative — need to put it out there to try it on and see if it fits. All I can tell you is what I know up to this point.

    As far as all of the visual arts are concerned, I know that I have a very narrow band of appreciation: something like 1895 to 1933. If it was created between those dates there’s a good chance I’ll like it; if it wasn’t, a good chance I will not. When I say visual arts, I mean painting, and all forms of print, particularly prints; to some extent I include photography. I am also including mainly work created in the West, Europe or the US. Add to this the 3-dimensional arts, crafts, from furniture, to vases, to jewelry.

    That’s as far as I think I can quantify my taste! Are there any rules at all regarding fiction, poetry, film, music? Not that I’m conscious of! I want to be well cared-for by the artist, by which I mean treated with respect; has he copied, or sloppied, or been lazy in any way? I won’t like it. I think the thing that is the same for me with these media, and with the visual as well, I want to be lifted on out, cared-for, as I say, and then returned. I want the work to be worthy of my surrender.

    That’s all I can summon at the moment, though I’ll admit to recognizing that my taste level is also fairly narrow when it comes to believing a real voice.

  22. lotusgreen May 19, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    I forgot an important addendum: art has always been my drug of choice.

  23. Adrienne May 20, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Art is my drug, too! Takes the edge off and sometimes even offers total escape…

    “.. the work to be worthy of my surrender.” Wow! Fantastic imagery! Me, too, but I think that changes depending on life stage, time of day, weather, mood, needs, and company.

    I am not a modern-art kind of girl – my sentiments are more narrative rather than lyrical in all art forms, but when I am led to see more of myself and my world, if it becomes a part of me, then, THEN, I have found what I call art.

    Sometimes it’s a chocolate chip cookie and a fingerpainting. Other times it is Mozart and Charlotte Bronte.

  24. Rosalind May 24, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Observing adolescence is like visiting a foreign country where you don’t know the language. This vignette gave me insight into that reality. I liked it, even though I was repulsed by the crazy behavior.

    I also read the New Yorker every week, and find the articles on subjects that I’m not familiar with very interesting.

    Do I tell my age now?

  25. Madwomanintheattic June 8, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    The tenor of this forum has changed, I think, and I’m sorry – and perhaps it’s because of general disenchantment with the New Yorker, but I think it’s more than that. I’m always several weeks behind in my reading, but whenever I finished a piece of fiction, I rushed to see what Betsy especially, but other keen analysts as well made of the story. Betsy’s detailed exegeses were always a starting point for my own thoughts; she kick-started me into considering an opinion. Relatively recently, however, the discussions have been more about general theories of fiction, or of what constitutes “good writing” (can you hear me gagging from where you’re reading), or the purposes thereof. To my mind, The New Yorker is not only featuring younger writers, but its advertising revenue depends on attracting a younger readership which, forgive me dear fellow commentators here, is not you. If you are yearning for more William Trevor or Alice Munro, you are not the people the New Yorker is courting. I think of Alice Munro’s frequent treatment of the same topic of sexual predation, and I recognize that her characters do not have texting capability, or emoji (who knew that plural of emoji is emoji, speaking of learning from fiction), or Instagram, and I understand that the tenor of this forum has changed perhaps because (with the notable exception of young Julian) we are OUT OF IT, kids. P.S I’m wholly with Rosalind on this story.

  26. Trevor Berrett June 9, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Interesting thoughts, madwomanintheattic. I’m okay with change on this forum, and I’m not sure all that has changed is bad, though we all miss Betsy’s remarks.

    I’m going to move this discussion over to this year’s fiction issue, as I think more people are over there at this moment and that this is very relevant to our thoughts there.

  27. Mary Antonio January 4, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    What does Charity want? And what stands in her way?

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