Tim Parks' "Bedtimes" was originally published in the December 21 & 28, 2015 issue of The New Yorker. Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

December 21 & 28, 2015The New Yorker closes out 2015 with another story — one that is relatively short, a ten-minute read — by Tim Parks. Parks last showed up in the magazine as recently as October with “Vespa,” a story that generated mixed thoughts reviews here in the discussion. I myself quite liked it, and I quite like Parks, but not everyone feels that way.

I’m anxious to see how folks respond to this, uh, holiday offering from The New Yorker, the tale of Thomas and Mary and their family and the vast distance between them as they wander around the same home, half hoping the someone else will have the desire to connect, but the bed is the perfect escape to avoid just that contact. Here’s a snippet:

So as not to have to pretend to be asleep again, which he finds painful, he goes to bed early. Mary joins him at 11:30 and hardly cares whether he is asleep or not, since she has nothing to say to a man who she believes is having an affair.

Here are Adrienne’s thoughts to get the discussion going.

Tim Parks again? Really? Was there nothing else? Did the editors of The New Yorker find this to be such an amazing piece? Are they pushing Tim Parks’ new novel (it includes this story as well as “The Vespa,” the fiction published in the magazine just a couple of months ago)?

I did not like “The Vespa,” and the feeling remains the same with “Bedtimes.” The writing is simple, and as Mr. Parks declares himself, “mechanical” with “monosyllabic repetition.” This was his artistic choice! He says he hopes readers find this story “funny” . . .

Sorry, Mr. Parks. I found no humor — no acerbic sarcasm, no raw irony, nothing laugh-out-loud, and certainly no wry internal grimace.

“Bedtimes” has potential to be expanded and there’s a lot of “showing,” but this story feels like a catalog of stage directions. It is dry and unoriginal. I cannot connect with such two dimensional characters; I feel nothing for them.

I am glad this tale was so short . . .

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By |2015-12-14T14:16:26+00:00December 14th, 2015|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Tim Parks|7 Comments


  1. Trevor Berrett December 14, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    I liked this one, but I like Parks’ simple style in general. My favorite pieces by him are his essays, and he shows a bit of that same control and precision with his fiction. It lacks linguistic flourish, but I don’t mind that since he uses that to present more delicate themes and events.

    It is perhaps a bit short and simplistic in content, as well, though. I agree with Adrienne that it feels like the start of something better, something that can continue to develop the setting that this establishes quite well.

    Anyway, anxious for the discussion here — in a few week’s we’ll have to move on to 2016!

  2. Roger December 14, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    A disappointment to me after a story like “Vespa,” whose characters stirred emotions. Here, we don’t really have characters, just types who seem like stand-ins for the characters of the many sad-marriage stories that have come before this one. The implicit moralizing (if only they appreciated one another more, if only they treated one another more considerately, etc.) was especially bothersome given that it was not supported by a story that felt distinctive and alive.

  3. Trevor Berrett December 15, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    While I agree that there is an implicit moral, I don’t think that’s the point of the story so much as an exploration of the distance, that can be so large as to be insurmountable or so small as to be a mere touch, between two people. The moral is there, I think, only because we naturally see their faults when they are close to making contact. That is to say, I think the moral is incidental to the exploration, and I can’t see how a writer would get around it if choosing to approach this issue with a kind of flash fiction.

    I don’t want to defend the story too much because I think there are much better pieces out there, but I do think it’s good.

  4. mehbe December 18, 2015 at 11:04 am

    I thought it was an okay story, until I read that Parks intended for it to be funny. Really?? At that point, I began to wonder if the British are an alien species, which is not the first time that possibility has crossed my mind.

  5. Sean H December 20, 2015 at 6:08 am

    Well, the listing style device of sameness and repetition points pretty clearly towards humor. Like many struggling marriages, this one has a Groundhog Day type quality to it. To present boredom and the tedium of monogamous marriages between aging people with kids, partners whose passionate fires are mostly extinguished, wouldn’t it naturally take a certain amount of simplicity, of mechanical monosyllables and pointless recursions? I didn’t find the story moralistic and definitely saw it as humorous (if of the sad-funny or pathetic-funny variety satirizing home life while also yearning for it to be something more). The super-long dog walks and the wife who cries at the end; her character is pretty tragic. And without humor these sorts of things become “Whose fault is it?” melodrama of the Kramer vs. Kramer variety.
    Overall this piece is not nearly as sharp as “Vespa.” It’s a bit too programmatic. It’s not long enough to develop much at the character level or appease readers who long for emotion. I think it might work better as part of the linked collection where certain themes can form over time and between/across various stories. For instance, the two New Yorker pieces by Parks, “Vespa” and this one, are both concerned with, perhaps even obsessed with, body image. In a world where people are more concerned than ever before with how they are perceived, with image manipulation, with youthfulness and shapeliness and coming across well and the manipulation of their “E-dentity” (technology-saturation in general is also a theme: Mark’s girlfriend in Vespa prefers texting to talking, here his father Thomas opens the story reading on his laptop for work while Mary talks with a friend on Skype, then later Thomas avoids actual potential connection with his wife by emailing and texting with business connections in the U.S. even though it’s a Saturday) these are timely subjects. Parks is concerned with where we’re headed. Strong shades of George Saunders here even if as a standalone story this one is just so-so.

  6. Ken December 29, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    I’m always interested in stories whose length mirrors content and this seemed perfect at its length, but would have grown tiresome if any longer. I liked how this uses a neutral, I wouldn’t personally say comic, tone to hint at emotions which have been suppressed or perhaps muffled by technological dependency and routine.

  7. Greg December 31, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Thanks everybody for helping me to fully grasp this story!

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