Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Rivka Galchen's "Usl at the Stadium" was originally published in the October 12, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

October 12, 2015A frequent contributor to the fiction pages of The New Yorker, Rivka Galchen returns after being absent for nearly two years. Her work has definitely gotten a mixed response here at The Mookse and the Gripes, so I look forward to seeing how folks respond to this piece.

To start things off, here are Adrienne’s initial thoughts — let us know if you agree or disagree, and explore your own take.

Usl works the buyback end of a storefront gold and gem outfit. He receives few texts, and mostly from his mom and a site called GemFacts. His life is not what he had pictured or hoped. He has dreams and he dreams them.

Usl is featured on the Jumbotron at a Yankees game — sleeping. The footage is loaded onto YouTube and cruel comments are made. His mother seeks to soothe him. A friend helps him create a lawsuit and his employer, like a father, offers sage advice.

This is a story about shame, degradation, and infamy. And this is nothing new in our “look at all the skeletons I have in MY closet” world we live in. Even without asking to be seen, many of us are. And there’s always a response we cannot control.

While the writing was decent and the plot was developed, hints and details well-placed and less speculative than truthful, I did not like this story. This type of situation happens all the time, but I avoid the drama that attends these scenes. I did not want to go into this scenario willingly, in life or in fiction. I also did not have a lot of empathy for Usl. I do not know why his name is so different (I kept looking for meaning behind that) and he remains boring throughout the whole piece. On an artistic level, this may have been the point — the drama, the name, his dullness — but I wasn’t looking for a masterpiece.

I want to read a well-written story that I can connect with, offering me insights into a truth I already know.

This one didn’t strike me as that type of story.

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By |2015-10-05T15:30:38-04:00October 5th, 2015|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Rivka Galchen|Tags: |8 Comments


  1. Sweatlana October 8, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Rivka Galchen, a New Yorker staple hailing from MFA mill, does write nice. I mean I read her piece on hospital food which was passable, and her profile of that black ballerina, who’s supposed to be like crazy good or something, made her indistinguishable from any other New Yorker staff writer (LOL, that’s usually not a compliment) to me.

    Her short-story collection American Innovations was wonderful, though. I like her work. I like “Usl at the Stadium” too. If only it hadn’t been written in a skeletal, second draft manner and she hadn’t tried so hard to Denis Johnson her way through the latter half.

    The story’s about Usl who gets famous because he slept through a game and was caught doing that by the evil jumbotron. Usl is miserable and spends his time reading YouTube comments of him and, under the advice of his neighbor Berge, even sues the Yankees.

    It’s hilarious in part and you gotta give it to Ms. Galchen for making her MC think things out using Bratt Pitt.

    At times, though, Ms. Galchen seems to have given up—she uses language as if she’s exhausted. At other times, she goes overboard with stuff like Why Do We Sleep, Why Do We Wake, Why Are We We.

    But the story works, albeit a little lifelessly. Showing life as waiting is nothing new or fashionable anymore but Ms. Galchen pulls it off somewhat. The ending could have had a better buildup and not have been such a tad random, but that’s perhaps just me.

    Then again, the MC is not any different than the thousands of others of post-2010 MCs by MFA-ians: he’s a grownup, he’s clueless, he’s a he. I don’t have any problems with any of these characteristics. It’s just that they all behave in pretty much the same way and it gets stale after a certain while, if you know what I mean.

    It’s possible my views on this would have been different if I had read it in a different mood, but that’s unlikely. Ms. Galchen’s story is nice, but it’s just that.

    RATING: 7/10

  2. Sean H October 11, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    I’ve enjoyed Galchen’s work in the past, “The Lost Order” in particular, but this one seemed a little obvious and way too “current affairs.” I’m not the ideal audience probably because I have no problem with fat shaming and find America’s a disgustingly obese populace but nonetheless I need an author to really make me a care about a character no matter their shape or size. This seemed less like a character and more like an agenda crammed into a fiction piece, riffing and commenting on a current social more that the author finds repugnant.

  3. Rosalind October 11, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Usl at the stadium is a gem of a story.
    Usl is a simple, childlike 28 year old guy who is totally unprepared for the bad,mean people of his world. “Only bad mean mothers prepare you for what is to come”. Usl’s good mother worries about him. She gives him a lucky stone to ward off evil, that is her idea of mothering.His relationships are his mother, Berge, nice guy neighbor, and his good boss Gregory.Esl also considers the two sports announcers, Mike and Mike as friends and is surprised that they are the guys who expose him on Youtube”Unpleasant things”.bloom into much worse words. Esl is overwhelmed. ” how did they know I could be pushed around”.
    “Where is the childishly imagined kingdom of fellowship and dignity?”
    ESL misses the clues,having no social intelligence.
    He is looking for real gold,a heart of gold, someone to bring him water when he is thirsty – a way to survive. ” Unreachable for us”.

    Thanks, Rivka. I know these people…

  4. Adrienne October 12, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    I love that there is always something about a story that someone can connect, too. Rosalind, how you felt about this story certainly mirrors the way I have felt about others. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Greg October 19, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    “I have no problem with fat shaming”……whoa Sean… are truly authentic in an age of political correctness.

  6. Ken December 13, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    I like her odd, quirky mix of tones and find it more charmingly eclectic than incoherent. She throws in odd phrasings, often funny, metaphysical speculation, quotes from YouTube that capture the vitriol that site often displays, and comic passages. I’ve always liked her work, though, and often find it worth reading twice to sort of sift through the often-incongruous layers.

  7. Arsen June 15, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    There is one moment in this story that is truly beautiful and came as a wonderful surprise to me. Usl is depressed and angry and he is taking it out on his boss Gregory. We expect Gregory to finally lose his cool. Instead, he tells Usl that he might not like what he’s about to say but he’s going to say it anyway. He says that he loves Usl. He cares about him. In a story about how distant we are from each other, how we operate in an anonymous world for much of the time, that was a powerful and meaningful personal thing to say. Usl cries and I must admit I did too, a little. I don’t think you see characters that allow themselves to be so vulnerable as Gregory did in that scene all that often.

  8. Greg June 18, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Great observation Arsen! The compassion and humanity that the author conveys here is why I love literature.

    Thank you for highlighting this brilliance from back in October!

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