"God's Work"
by Kevin Canty
Originally published in the April 4, 2016 issue of The New Yorer.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker website.

April 4, 2016While Canty’s most recent New Yorker story, “Story, with Bird” (our post here), did little for me at the time, the first Canty story I read, “Mayfly” (our post here), was so strong that I am excited for this week’s story, which looks to be about a young boy’s experience proselytizing door to door with his mother.

Please feel free to comment below. I’m excited to read your thoughts and discussion!

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By |2016-03-28T11:41:22-04:00March 28th, 2016|Categories: Kevin Canty, New Yorker Fiction|8 Comments


  1. Sean H April 3, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    Tonally plangent and structurally deft, populated with sensible and realistic character evocation. A hard-to-capture age (adolescence) and topic (religion) presented with a restrained ending that easily could’ve veered into the overwrought and melodramatic. A finely executed short story and one of the best in The New Yorker in a while.

  2. bill April 4, 2016 at 12:28 am

    gotta disagree about its quality: klutzy writing, not credible and often in embarrassing prose. “all the girls dress like prostitutes”; refusing to eat lunch when he is famished; “a fury of blushing”; “clara has tits … a pussy too,Too, A hairy one, or maybe a smooth pretty one” ; “chattery mountain stream”;” thickets of birds and flowers”; “her eyes swim up to him”; “a fury of thought”;”small birds scatter and chirp as they pass”; “laughter that sounds at home in the woods.” Animal Cry, he thinks. “every footstep throbbing in his face” !!!!!!!

    going in the water as allegory of sex; the unlikeliness of lots of the action: his putting his hand on the girl’s leg; father telling congregation “Y’all sound crazy as a shithouse mouse.”

    etc etc. it’s sloppy. grammar errors even.

    this story disappoints me so because it could have been so good–that boy with sex consuming him and a ultra-religious anti-sex family was exactly me at his age.

  3. Ken April 5, 2016 at 1:49 am

    I thought the story flowed and that the writing reflected well the boy’s internal monologue in fairly effective indirect free style. I’d pretty much second all that Sean has eloquently stated. After McEwan’s tale–which is lacking any moral dilemma or tension since the character exists solely to serve the writer’s “cleverness”–I enjoyed a story with a moral choice which intelligently, sympathetically represented the schism in many people of faith. Thank God I’m an agnostic.

  4. mehbe April 5, 2016 at 4:09 am

    It didn’t convince me.

    The made-up religion felt made-up. I didn’t really believe a boy that age would be out going door-to-door with his mother (and, indeed, the author says the real boy in the actual incident that triggered this story was years younger). The girl’s father (and lack of mother) and the boy’s mother (and lack of father) were just a tad too conveniently symmetrical in their polar opposition. I also didn’t believe that the father would suddenly appear and haul the daughter out of the religious meeting, after she had been attending them for a good while. And it seemed odd to have the father and daughter completely moved out of their house just a week after that dramatic scene, with no particular reason given for it – was the reader supposed to see some specific connection between that move and the earlier events in the story? Or not?

    What I did like was the reason the father gave for why he was removing his daughter from the group. It might provide some interesting food for thought for the boy in his future.

    And what was with that little cluster of brand names towards the beginning of the story (Taco Bell, Aerostar, Gordita Surpreme)? It seemed like some weird momentary stab at a certain kind of realism but it was soon abandoned. Strange.

    Anyway, like Bill above, I was raised in an intensely religious environment, and to me, this story has very little connection with the reality of that kind of experience.

  5. Greg April 9, 2016 at 12:14 am

    I’m definitely with Sean and Ken on this one! The topics of religion, desire, conflicted morals, family dysfunction and humiliation are so well covered. And the writing is so good….I put this author in the same class as fellow super talented Americans Jess Walter and David Gilbert!

  6. Joe April 9, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    Wow, what a disappointment. This absolutely felt like an early draft in many ways, but most notably in that the reasoning for Clara’s attendance at the church was nearly absent and her reasoning for it was pretty unconvincing. The story has do much promise up until Clara showed up at the fellowship — then it lost all of its energy. I’m also not a fan of injecting the brand names — just seems chosen for no explicable reason — would have been better at that point to substitute some local, unknown place. I don’t know, it just took me right out of the story.

    And the final bit of failure, the largest bit in my opinion, was the totally, completely, absolutely unrealistic end — the family left the city a week later? Come on. First of all, practicality — moves don’t happen that fast, generally, but if it did, we were given no reason why it would happen. I really really wanted to like this story.

    The whole story just felt way to academically written and definitely not revisited by the writer to see the glaring need to tighten it up.

    Another stinker. NY is running, for me, at max 10 good stories per year.

  7. Greg April 10, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    It’s fascinating to see the dichotomy of opinions on this story….however, I think most of us would agree with you Joe about there being only 10 good New Yorker stories per year!

  8. Roger April 24, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    This story felt too familiar – how often have we read fiction about guilt-ridden adolescent sexual desire at war with a character’s religious upbringing? And what does this story add to that already-sizeable body of work? More specifically, the Jehovah’s Witness situation involving a parent who conscripts her child was worked pretty hard by Zadie Smith in White Teeth.

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