“Anhedonia, Here I Come”
by Colin Barrett
Originally published in the April 18, 2016 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker website.

April 18, 2016Colin Barrett’s last story to appear in The New Yorker, “The Ways,” was very well received on this site (see here) — better than almost any other story I can remember, in fact. I’d be thrilled if he’s done it again with a story that, again, doesn’t sound like it can be too pleasant. Then again, Annie Hall was originally going to be called Anhedonia, so . . .

I look forward to your thoughts on the story!

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By |2016-04-11T00:36:29-04:00April 11th, 2016|Categories: Colin Barrett, New Yorker Fiction|16 Comments


  1. garrettjpeace April 13, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Well, this was the first story I’ve read by Colin Barrett, although all the praise for “The Ways” on here (and Young Skins in general) is certainly striking. The DFW influence seems pretty strong with this story, as seen with the vocabulary and in this small section:

    “Not being able to feel crushingly terrible made him feel terrible, but even this second order of terribleness had, to his inquisitive mind, a compelling textural quality that made him wish only to experience more of it: his mind found any sensation or state induced by it fascinating, which was an indirect way of admitting that his mind found itself fascinating, which was to say that he, Bobby Tallis, found every facet of his own disgustingly mundane self and life fascinating. Bobby’s psychic sturdiness was, he feared, a manifestation of a submerged but profound and pullulating narcissism.”

    Like I said, I’m not familiar with Barrett’s other work, but is it all so . . . maximalist? I found the vocabulary and the syntax of these sentences to be amusingly complex, thinking at first blush that the writing was reflective of the overblown image Bobby has of himself as a poet/writer. I enjoyed how this piece seemed to be more of a character study than a “typical” short story (although one could make the argument that Bobby does have a slight arc of sorts, culminating in his decision at the end to use the lighter) and how the writing contributed to that. (On a semi-related note, I love the line: “but the night, as the night was wont to do, rolled impersonally on.” What a great way to bring the story to a close.) That said, I was still expecting a little more, based on the praise I’d heard of him. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this story, particularly from those who are more familiar with his work.

    (This is my first post on here, but I’ve been a long-time lurker. It’s been a goal of mine for a while to start reading the New Yorker stories posted each week, but somehow this is my first!)

  2. Trevor Berrett April 13, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Welcome, Garrett!

  3. Sean H April 14, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Overwritten, with an unsatisfying ending, but populated by consistently interesting supporting characters that are distinct yet realistic. The bulk of the story is well-executed and throughout it there are some flashes of real talent regarding the author’s deployment of language. The subject matter has to potential for solipsism, insularity and showyness (for the writer to come across as “I’ve got them all figured out, I’m in the know”) yet for the most part, given the world presented here, its mostly free of cliche and predictability.

  4. wsaunders54 April 19, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    The ending is better, but until then the writing is incredibly pompous and self-regarding——supposedly dazzling turns of phrase and rare vocab — just showing off, often indifferent to exact meaning. Look closely at these bits:

    lavishly wayward
    one hand broodingly ensconced within a pocket
    downy with dust [can’t resist the alliteration]
    dolefully lingered
    the notional sea beyond [what is a notional sea?}
    a spectrum of emotional feeling [is there another kind of feeling?]
    He pounded across the parking lot and instantly discerned Becky [how about “he walked across the parking lot and instantly saw Becky?]
    flexed the wings of her nose
    they unsaddled themselves from the wall
    she was objectively better than him [grammar: should be “he”]
    incipiently canonical gaze [what is a canonical gaze?]

    Contrast this with fellow-Irishman William Trevor!

  5. Greg April 21, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Thanks wsaunders54 for your list of over-the-top writing!

    Nevertheless, this writer is soooo talented that he will surely reign himself in and pump out a superior work the next time.

    (It’s fun to be able to follow the maturation process of these special writers…..the NYR allows us sometimes to do this….sometimes)

  6. Trevor Berrett April 22, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    You always have an amazing, gracious attitude, Greg! Thank you for that!

  7. Greg April 23, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    And thank you Trevor for religiously introducing this NYR forum every week even though you have so many things literature and non-literature going on!

  8. Ken April 23, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    I must agree about the over-writing and I too thought it might be parodying the character’s grandiosity but I fear not. Yet…to pretty much duplicate Sean’s comments, I still found this involving and enjoyable. The story was fun as an urban adventure tale. I like stuff about drinking, drugs inherently and found the whole description of the older, successful poet in the bar very lively and in marked contrast to the younger, seemingly sober, ambitious young female poet.

  9. Roger April 24, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Barrett again reveals himself as a stylistic genius and not too shabby at irony, either. The “notional sea,” for instance, struck me as a comment on Bobby’s limited world, confined to his neighborhood and his community of poets. The sea into which the canal flows is not literally notional, it’s just that it may as well be, as Bobby lacks the curiosity to visit it or even learn about it. Here and elsewhere in the story, Barrett uses language cleverly to shed light on character.

  10. Greg April 24, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Thank you Roger for expanding on the ‘notional sea’.

    How cleverly written!

    (Both by the author and now you)

  11. Roger April 24, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    Thanks, Greg. You know, I just realized that I said the notional sea is not actually notional. So I guess it is notionally notional….

  12. Greg April 24, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    Hee-hee Roger!

  13. Madwomaintheattic April 25, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Was there a single bodily fluid left unbunged? The story felt to me as if the writer had a list that he checked off to make the reader as queasy as possible. I wished for a little anhedonia myself.

  14. Greg April 25, 2016 at 10:48 pm

    Good observation and wit Madwomaintheattic!

    I myself found the description of the main character picking his nose to be very bizarre….do you think the author wrote these parts into the story in order to give us a raw depiction of what these characters’ lives are truly like?

  15. Archer April 27, 2016 at 1:42 am

    I was mixed on this. I think Barrett is good at evoking certain states of mind, and I agree with Sean H that the peripheral characters are sharply and realistically drawn. Each separate encounter is interesting on its own, but I felt that the parts were ultimately more interesting than the whole. This is essentially a pretty familiar work about the discontents of young artist types, and it never really gets out of that insular milieu.

    I echo the opinion that Barrett has a tendency to overwrite. He seems unable to resist a useless adverb (there are three in the first two sentences!), and as wsaunders54 noted, some of his phrasing and imagery is quite labored. I also noted the frank descriptions of bodily functions. I’m not a prude or anything, and writers going back to Joyce and Beckett wrote about farting and nose-picking, so it’s not exactly cutting-edge. But here it seemed incongruous, at odds with the story’s content.

    A question: what do you make of the main character’s sexual orientation? It’s (deliberately, I suppose) never explicitly identified, but I believe whatever you think of it would shed a certain light on the rest of the story — particularly the scene in the car.

  16. Greg April 28, 2016 at 12:01 am

    Good question Archer about his orientation….He seemed one way with his admirer in the car, but then he made a drunken play for the smart girl in the bar?….I think the author wanted the character to be open and free.

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