Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Jensen Beach's "The Apartment" was originally published in the August 31, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

August 31, 2015I haven’t heard of Jensen Beach before this, but I see his first collection of short stories, For Out of the Heart Proceed, was published by Dzanc Books back in 2012, and his second, Swallowed by the Cold, will be published soon by Graywolf. Those are some good publishers, and I look forward to getting to know a bit about Beach’s work.

Please join the conversation below. Talk about the story, Beach in general, or, well, anything that comes to mind.

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By |2015-09-03T17:47:26-04:00August 24th, 2015|Categories: Jensen Beach, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Adrienne August 25, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Last week of editing – I am missing short fiction!

    Loved this story – I was distracted by all the identifiers (she, she,she) when listening on SoundCloud, but I fell in love with Louise. I’d love to read the rest of the collection when it comes out. I found that I was partially blinded by my compassion for Louise. The utter sadness cosy-ed me in.

    And I enjoyed the setting – it became a vital character in the story.

    Just little snippets, but I wanted to share!

  2. Roger August 26, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    I enjoyed the crisp prose here but not much else. It is a situation, not a story, a depiction of Louise’s sad (one might say pathetic) situation. Maybe if read together with the other stories in Beach’s linked collection, the effect would be different, but I don’t think it stands on its own.

  3. Greg August 30, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Excellent appraisal Roger of this writing! And thanks Adrienne for admitting your bias towards Louise…..you have reminded me that sometimes it’s very difficult to be neutral!

  4. Sean H August 31, 2015 at 4:44 am

    A little muddy and ham-fisted at the sentence level, like someone used to playing a guitar picks up a banjo and tries to strum the way they’re used to on a six-string. A lot of “She walked him back to work” and “She decided to walk home;” “She set the purse on the kitchen counter” and “The stairwell was dark,” and those to start paragraphs! Unoriginal and uninspired sentence construction to say the least. Sort of a pseudo-minimalism that impeded me for a while at the beginning and middle of the story.

    The observations are more character study than “story,” I agree with the comments above on that front – this isn’t really a person who changes, there’s no real revelation, and the end strives a bit too obviously for a Joycean epiphanic closer, though the image of her on her knees eating the bread like it’s the host in a darkened church is quite impressive. Also, a character study works as long as the character is interesting, and on the whole, this one is more interesting than not.

    Beach wins me over most in the progression of her mind-state as the drinking kicks in. Starting with the shame-hiding outside the store and then up through rummaging in the cupboards to find her husband’s cookies, the moderate alcoholism is well-conjured. And let’s be honest, her son is a loser. That scene of him with the chopsticks identifying the different kinds of fish and then rejoining his tribe of middlebrows and her putting a mother’s spin on it of him being “close to the middle” and thus easier to fit in/blend in is in some ways the most horrifying thing in the story.

    The theme of regret and the stuff about Arman and the baby doesn’t hold up all that well to a second reading and I thought the interaction with the girl downstairs (who I pictured as Zadie Smith-like for some reason) was pretty standard and predictable. That said, the ending worked for me and the re-invocation of the first night she hated her husband was quite well-wrought. The guy has some chops as a short story writer.

  5. Greg September 3, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Thank you Sean for pointing out the well written flashback to the first feeling of hatred for her husband. I believe we can all relate in some way to this in our relationships, so the author did a great job in making us think of our own lives.

  6. Linda September 5, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    I read this twice to see what I was missing. I can admire the writers talent as a writer, but really this is a pathetic story. The ending is not redemptive to me, but just a loaded image. Story lines like this just add more misery to world. I would title it: The Story of an Alcoholic in Sweden Who Refused to Get Her Own Life. In view of all the horrors of modern life brought on dislocation and war, I cannot feel any sympathy for this woman. This is such a pathetic story of white suffering.

  7. esther Smoller September 6, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    You didn’t like the story for various reasons(most of which I agree. I thought it was dull and went nowhere) then why do you determine this was good writing? I’d love to know your reasoning.

  8. Zuri Allan September 7, 2015 at 8:21 am

    I thought it was a somewhat compelling read and evoked very well one’s loss of inhibition when under the influence.

  9. Sean H September 9, 2015 at 2:47 am

    To Linda:
    Hey, pathetic white alcoholic suffering has made for a lot of great literature! Let’s see: William Kennedy, Kingsley Amis, J.P. Donleavy, Charles Bukowski, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, A.L. Kennedy, Sarah Kane, Malcolm Lowry. And that’s just off the top of my head!
    More importantly, what you’re looking for in literature is empathy, not sympathy. Get off that predictable old whine about how unless it’s about the plight of Syrian refugees (or Sudan, Congo, Ethiopia, Chile, Bosnia, El Salvador, Kosovar, Lebanon, Nigeria or whatever this week’s fashionable po-co white-liberal-guilt hellhole headline of the day is) it’s not worth reading or caring about.

  10. Greg September 9, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    “Get off that predictable old whine”……I love it Sean!

  11. Linda September 11, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    I didn’t give thought to my post. . I don’t see an erase button. I admire any writer’s skills that can hold together an imagined world, even if I hate it. Thus I respect the craft of the author. I disliked this story, only for personal reasons which I rationalized.A story must be encountered on its own merits or demerits and not measured by world politics, I agree that is beside the point. But my subjective reaction was that I hated being inside this author’s imaged world. If I had to say why, I think it was because the wife’s servile attitude and repression were not believable to me.

  12. Greg September 12, 2015 at 12:12 am

    Thank you Linda for expanding your opinion!

    Also, do you think that the author being male affected your belief in the protagonist?

  13. Linda September 15, 2015 at 3:12 am

    Yes, Greg, I think so. This seemed like a male’s idea of female misery, a male conceit that she would measure life according to her relationship to men. This seemed so antiquated to me, so one dimensional, as if she were a puppet for the author to speak through. Some characters become organic and seem to move with their own energy, even in desperate circumstances, but she seemed like a ventriloquist’s dummy to me, especially in twentieth century Sweden. I feel I was reacting to her emotional vacuum as imagined by a male, which seemed flat and very off key, especially the last scene, which is full of suggestion, but falls flat, to me.

  14. Greg September 15, 2015 at 7:55 am

    Thank you Linda for sharing your perspective! I especially like this part of your response:

    “Some characters become organic and seem to move with their own energy, even in desperate circumstances”

  15. marilyn September 15, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    I know I am old fashioned & probably lazy & I know we must admire this post modern highly minimalistic style & I see the beauty I guess in this prose & bear with me by my rambling run unedited sentence that I am in a hurry. Reading everyones comments made me read the story a second time & I found it somewhat less off putting. However I find the style makes me recoil from Louise. I feel sorry for her (sympathy but not empathy). And I have certainly had my self indulgent times of overdrinking, regret, loneliness in a marriage, alienation from an adult child…

    I assume we shouldnt compare post modern New Yorker short stories to what I regard as the classics but reread Salingers Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut & Cheevers The Sorrows of Gin. Salinger makes me want to sit & drink w Eloise & Mary Jane & indulge in despair remorse ambivalence about choices in my life. Cheever makes me see the world of drunken adults through the eyes of the child…

    So maybe The Apartment is a morality tale because after reading it I feel slightly ill & never want to have a glass of wine. But the world of Salinger & Cheever tempts me to indulge on a rainy afternoon the sorrows of gin…

  16. Adrienne September 15, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    @ Linda: If art imitates life, aren’t there still woman who “measure their lives according their relationships with men”?

    I find the idea of men narrating women and women narrating men as fascinating – I was surprised I enjoyed Amos Oz’s story so much, that he did a female voice SO well. This opposite-gender writing doesn’t normal cross my mind when reading. This is just HIS idea of how the story looks and sounds and feels. I think the desperateness of Louise comes across – maybe not the true intimacy of it, not the way a woman would write it, but enough for me to connect.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with Cheever and Salinger… Betty Smith always makes me feel like a powerless child again…

  17. Adrienne September 15, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Sorry – thanks Marilyn for your Cheever and Salinger remarks – forgot that my typing doesn’t always follow the brain!

  18. jay September 19, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    The low key style fits the central character’s low key life. Swedish, Louise is pleased that her son looks like all the other children in his school, and she hopes to die an ordinary death. Prose doesn’t have to be acrobatic to be good. I was drawn into the story and remained steadily involved. I liked the way Louise’s alcoholism is gradually revealed. First the glass of wine at lunch, while her son drinks water. Then the purchase of more wine at a liquor store on her way back home. Then we learn how she doesn’t put all her bottles in the recycling bin so that her neighbors won’t know how much she drinks. In the same way we learn details about her marriage a bit at a time. The story’s steady, well-timed flow of vital information kept me interested. And I disagree that the story is all misery. The scene where Louise visits her new neighbor is hilarious; I burst out laughing. See it from the neighbor’s point of view: Louise, come to pay a friendly welcome, turns out to be a drunk who blurts out embarrassing and even gruesome facts about her love for the new neighbor’s father and the unbelievable smell of the apartment after its previous tenant, an old lady, died. The neighbor, trying desperately to get rid of Louise while remaining polite, is reduced to asking questions like, “Can I help you back home?” “Do you think you’ll make it on your own?” “Do you need help walking back?” when Louise has expressed no wish to leave.

  19. Adrienne September 21, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    @Jay –

    Yes! I loved the details that slowly let us in on her secret!

  20. David October 27, 2015 at 9:47 am

    The story kept my interest and I found empathy for Louise, but in the end, the story fell flat. The ending was such a disappointment. I just did not get it.

    I did like the way Beach handled Louise’s drinking problem. We learned of her problem a bit at a time, and by the time she confronted the new neighbor, we realized how bad her drinking was. I preferred this gradual approach rather than hit us over the head with her being a drunk right from the beginning of the story.

    I found the possibility that the new neighbor was the widow of her former lover too much of a coincidence. Trying to convince the reader this was a strong possibility was too far fetched for me. I know anything can happen in fiction, but had that been the case, it would have been too much of a stretch. However, the tension Beach created when Louise worried that the father of her unborn child might be her lover was good. I felt worry right along with her, and relief when the child was born and her lover was not the father. This portion of the story was realistic and handled well.

    I enjoyed the scene with Louise and the neighbor, who was politely trying to get her to leave. I wondered if she actually believed what Louise was telling her, or if she just wrote it off as babble spewed by a drunk neighbor.

    Overall, the story was ok, it kept my interest, but not one I am dying to read again or recommend to others to read.

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