Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Tim Parks' "Vespa" was originally published in the October 5, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

October 5, 2015I always like to see Tim Parks’ essays and criticism show up here and there, but so far I’ve never been a bit fan of his fiction. Perhaps this week’s story will change all of that.

As always, please join the conversation by sharing your thoughts on “Vespa” below.

To get us started, here are Adrienne’s initial thoughts:


Now, everyone knows I am annoyingly cheerful and supportive of authors’ stories, but this one drove me nuts! But as I am not a lamabaster by nature, I will limit myself to five points.

  1. The title is just two words about an object in the story, albeit a central object, but without creativity and excitement for the tale at hand.
  2. The writing feels like a well-proofread first or second draft. I had to check to see who the author was and if he had anything else to his credit warranting a New Yorker placement. The story does not unfold. It tumbles and jerks.
  3. The characters are clichés — well-drawn clichés, but still. Exotic adolescent lover, privileged young man, distant parents in the midst of divorce, something with an engine that gives a young man his freedom (usually a car, but . . .) the bullheaded police officer. Even down to the female nude model in Mark’s art class. And why is she even there? She doesn’t need to be. Sure, there are connections made to her feelings and Mark’s later, but other methods could have been used. Or at the very least, this choice could have been more skillful.
  4. The themes are universal. But here they are forced and tried into a very predictable and clumsy story. Details abound, but they seem out of sync, heavy, trite. Even reading the interview with Parks was like listening to a high school English class: adolescence feeling quite brilliant.
  5. I didn’t care about Vespas before reading this story and I care even less now.
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By |2015-09-28T22:50:23-04:00September 28th, 2015|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Tim Parks|Tags: |10 Comments


  1. Trevor Berrett September 28, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    So you’re not interested in reading Parks’ other piece published in The New Yorker, Adrienne? :-)

    Well, just in case, you can find that conversation here.

  2. Adrienne September 29, 2015 at 10:27 am

    :-) I read the conversation, Trevor, and I must admit that while most comments seemed positive, I am not sold. I will need a break from his writing for a long time to forget my gut reaction. Like it was with Kundera for me… a little more life between me and Mr. Parks will go a long way, I am sure. :-)

    Also – a correction. I was so emotional I said that the title was TWO words, when in fact it is only one. Not a *specific* Vespa – just VESPA.

  3. Icecream Battle October 3, 2015 at 6:55 am

    Stories revolving around cars or bikes never interested me. I always saw them as a niche subsection, only attracting those whose fascination of wheels guaranteed them access to a “group” of fellow automobilophiles (that’s a word, right?), a “group” with which I shared no mutual interest.

    So I started reading Tim Park’s “Vespa” thinking I wouldn’t enjoy it. By the time I finished the story, though, I was kinda disappointed.

    Park’s story starts off pretty nicely with Mark parking his Vespa outside his girlfriend’s school and taking the bus to meet her somewhere else. They don’t make out in an empty house as was the initial plan, but go to a coffee shop. Later, he goes shopping with his mother, only to return to find his Vespa’s motor gone.

    There’s more plot in this story than in the last couple of stories, and it’s engrossing up to a point when the mother takes him to the station to report the crime. After that, it slowly starts losing track. Mark sketches a fat woman in class, thinking how she’s happy and how he’s not.

    As much as the story failed to deliver for me in the end, Mr. Park does deserve credit for near perfectly depicting the anxiousness of losing a device/vehicle that helps you connect with a loved one. More often than not we relegate this sentiment to a whining teenager bitching about getting his I-phone back, but the swift, sudden feeling of loss that comes with the disappearance of the gateway-object is usually lost upon us and I felt Mr. Park portrayed that as best as he could.

    In the latter part of the story, the build-up is completely ruined with the absence of a satisfying punch. If you’re going to have an evil girlfriend in the story at least make the discovery less unsure.

    For me, the ending killed it. OMG, WHAT’S GOING ON MARK IS LOSING IT IS HE OKAY OR WHAT wasn’t something I wanted to ironically say while reading the story.

    RATING: 5/10


  4. Kay martinez October 4, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    So good I almost couldn’t read it. To meI, the story is not about any of the things Adrienne posits, but the hilarious and painful clash between institutional thinking and humanity.

  5. Roger October 5, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    I enjoyed this very much. Parks’s evocation of the feelings of decent but insecure young Mark were pitch perfect. The kid seemed quite real to me. I loved how he is henpecked by his parents and how that contributes to his weakness, which I’m betting he is starting to grow out of. I also loved the mismatch between his innocence and the seemingly more worldly, experienced Yasmin, who struck me not as a villain but as a teenage girl who operates in a different milieu than Mark and his family. How much she knew about the borrowing of the bike is something we don’t find out, and Mark probably won’t, either, which is fine with me. The dialogue, especially with the police officer and with Mark’s parents, was hilarious at times but always believable. I didn’t experience any bumpiness in the plot; to the contrary, it drove as smartly as that Vespa. The characters and the plot and Parks’s craft gave this story a pulse. As for the model the class was drawing, I read it the same way Parks discusses it in the page-turner interview.

    The New Yorker should try publishing work like this more often.

    Is it really the case that a car or motor bike features prominently in many other literary short stories? If so, I may have some reading to catch up on.

  6. Greg October 12, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Thank you so much to Kay and Roger for putting into words all the wonderful things about this story! I really appreciate that you took the time to share your knowledge and passion!…..and Kay, I love this expression you used, “So good I almost couldn’t read it.”

  7. Judith Klau November 3, 2015 at 9:51 am

    I found it kind of a dippy story, but I liked the way the depiction of Mark’s absolutely innocent gaze into the world (Yasmin’s world, the police world, the insurance world, the highway world) contrasted with his developing insight into drawing (the model as model, as person, as stippled flesh). PS: Is there something wrong here “…a calendar above his head in which a girl crouching behind a motorbike wearing only a black jacket had propped her two pointed breasts on the seat,” or is it just an old grammarian’s cavil?

  8. Ken December 10, 2015 at 5:06 am

    I found this story odd. It was readable, engaging, created suspense but in the end I’m not sure what the point was. I don’t need some heavy-handed lesson or moralizing, but this felt like narrative and a (small bit of) character development in which things happened relatively randomly and without much point or purpose. Maybe that’s lifelike, but it’s a bit frustrating aesthetically. Nevertheless, I found it smooth and highly readable.

  9. Sean H December 20, 2015 at 5:53 am

    Frustrates but builds. Has a surprising but earned ending. Sort of an adolescent version of the awakening of Lester Burnham in American Beauty (directed by Brit Sam Mendes). Also shades of John Lanchester and Susan Straight. Really captures adolescent angst and how young men learn things, some of them good and some of them bad. Kay’s point above about liberation is key. Parks is a tactician-type writer. This is a gripping narrative and his recent publication in the Dec. 21/28 New Yorker points out that it’s part of a linked collection. That story concentrates more on the parents of this one’s protagonist but Mark is a well-rendered character all his own. Domestic realism has its limitations but Parks has a talent for a universalist type of ventriloquism (also seen in Ali Smith) that allows him to write very well across gender, ethnic, age and class lines.

  10. Greg December 20, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    It’s cool Sean how you made a link to the great film, “American Beauty”!

    (My favourite scene in the film was when Lester goes off to his wife about “it being just a couch”)

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