“Most Die Young”
by Camille Bordas
from the January 2, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

It’s not quite 2017, but The New Yorker is already going on its 2017 slate. They’re starting this year with a story from Camille Bordas, a young writer who is originally from France and has two novels published in French. She says, in her interview with Willing Davidson (here), that she started writing in English after moving to the United States in 2012. Next summer her English-language debut novel, How to Behave in a Crowd, is coming out.

So, a new year with a new voice. Please let me know what you think in the comments below! Here’s to great fiction in 2017!

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By |2017-05-25T17:29:43-04:00December 26th, 2016|Categories: Camille Bordas, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Mike December 28, 2016 at 4:59 am

    Such a beautiful story, full of humanity and empathy. One if the few stories that moved me to tears in recent years. Looking forward to reading more from her!

  2. Ellen December 29, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Mike, could you elaborate what it was you loved about the story? I felt slightly annoyed by it, but perhaps that’s just because I am annoyed in real life by privileged people who make drama out of the mundane with their anxieties.

  3. Dennis Lang December 30, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    I think even for those less privileged what is mundane to others can be the source of great drama and anxieties, even panic for the person who is anxious. But I’m not talking about the person emotionally shattered by the scratch in the Maserati. It’s life and all its uncertainties. A burden carried by all.

    Love the buoyant contrasts in this story from Glauber to a terrorist attack, the characters, the dialogue, the insight, ultimately its poignancy.

    Nice.

  4. Nancy December 31, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    …and the sense of humor.

  5. jonmari January 1, 2017 at 12:53 am

    Here here to a sense of humor……… and to this terrific new writer on our shores. A refreshing new voice.

  6. Serena Corazzina January 1, 2017 at 8:58 am

    I’ve just read AND i found it really deep AND light.
    Serena

  7. Dennis Lang January 1, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Yes–And sense of humor!!

    Glib repartee and revealing self-reflection remindful of Woody Allen.

    Happy 2017 folks!!

  8. Eric January 1, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    I suppose that this story is admirable by any rubric which one might use to “grade” a short story. I very much liked some of the humorous asides, the author obviously feels a lot of empathy for her empathy-less protagonist, and the plot was at least OK. But by now I’ve read hundreds of short stories about the existential angst, dysfunctional relationships, and lack of true feelings among people working in the publishing industry and/or university humanities departments. Like most such protagonists, the narrator is insightful, intelligent and objective but mean-spirited about any topic other than herself. She is also not really interested in any other topic than herself.

    Bordas seems to be very passionate about bringing smart bu narcissistic intellectuals to life, but I’m not, I’ve already read about far too many people like this. She’s a good writer but I think I would have been more interested in a story about her boyfriend, or her sister.

  9. Ken January 2, 2017 at 3:46 am

    I’ll agree with Eric. I found this readable, engrossing and often funny but I too felt this character with her rather predictable urban neuroses was cliched and ultimately tiresome. The deflationary way she will transition from something possibly significant into a blase statement is itself a bit of a cliche such as going from fucking Glauber (her ex who she is still attached to and somewhat obsessed over) to feeding an ill dog mashed potatoes is a classic of this stylistic device.

  10. David January 2, 2017 at 10:09 am

    The story did not register for me as even trying to be funny, let alone actually being funny, so I had a lot less of an enjoyable experience reading it. For example, when she explains how Glauber being rude and hostile is the source of her interest in the Pawong and that she “never took anything personally” it just all seems weird. Even now I don’t see what is supposed to be funny there or even if it is supposed to be funny. It seems like a waste of time to me to even try to figure it out, so on to the next story.

  11. Eric January 2, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Actually, I thought the “I never took anything personally” thing was one of the funnier ongoing jokes in the story. Clearly, the protagonist _does_ take a lot of things very, very personally, but she is so lacking in self-awareness that she has managed to convince herself that she doesn’t. The contrast between her keen insight into the feelings and motivations of others, and her own obliviousness about her own feelings, was a nice touch, though I thought it could have been realized more vividly.

  12. David January 2, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Eric, I took that line as more an open admission that she is emotionally inert because she really did seem to show no evidence that what he said hurt her and she merely uses it as a launching point for her investigations into the Pawong. Also, later when she finds out that Glauber has been telling people in the group about her she is surprised, but does not seem to register any hurt about it. So I found her more pathetic than funny.

  13. Eric January 4, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    Btw, one other joke that I liked was how the bigger the bigshot, the harder it was to find his office. I suspect that that’s often true, and not just in academia.

  14. David January 4, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    Eric, I guess that could be a funny observation if there were any truth to it. I have had a lot of experience with a lot of university campuses over the years and find that the offices of the members of a particular department are almost invariably clustered together. Bigshots, if anything, are easier to find because they tend to be closer to the administrative staff offices. If anything, it is those lowest on the totem pole (sessional instructors and term appointees) who can be more remote because they get assigned space last. Maybe things are different in France? But anyway, even if this were a general truth I don’t see why it counts as a joke. Is the idea that physical difficulty to locate is a metaphor for difficulty to understand what they say and so meant as a shot at how obscure academics can be? We are introduced to two academics in the story and they don’t seem to be hard to understand. I still don’t really see what the joke was supposed to be.

  15. Dennis Lang January 4, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Hmm… I’m only a casual reader David, so my ignorance no doubt self-evident, but why does the “bigger the big shot, the harder it was to find his office” require a literal interpretation and objectively factual basis to be funny, flip, glib?

    In context the line is totally consistent with who we begin to understand who the character is– and that is its truth.

    No?

  16. David January 4, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    Dennis, if it is literally false, then it does not work as well as a metaphor. But I still don’t know who you mean when you say “the character”. Which character do you think is revealed by the comment? And how? I still don’t see what the joke is supposed to be.

  17. Diana January 5, 2017 at 8:39 am

    i liked this story very much – the paradox of the narrator’s stated lack of affect, not taking anything personally (certainly a defense mechanism) contrasted with the actually very warm, reciprocal relationship she has with her sister, her concern for the abandoned dog, even her anxious imagination reveals an empathy she desperately fights against. The narrator sees her inability to relate intimately to Glauber as a defect in herself, when really it’s Glauber who undermines it. I particularly like the way the author portrayed the sisters’ relationship – the naturalness of their conversations, their ease with one another was very real. ( I have 3 sisters and this is how we talk.) I read this quickly and with real interest

  18. Dennis Lang January 5, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Thanks David.

    Whether the statement is “literally false” may be open to conjecture, In any event I hardly find whether it is or not relevant. The author isn’t writing a legal brief (anyway it’s casual opinion). She’s created a character, who is smart, self-reflective, occasionally conflicted, observant, and sensitive to irony. As I read it, the line is funny and the kind of thing I would expect the character to say.

    But I’m begging the question. Sorry.

  19. David January 5, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Dennis, I won’t belabour the point too much, but if you think the narrator’s observation about how hard it is to find the offices of big shots reveals something about her character then it matters a great deal whether or not what she says is literally true or not. For her to observe something that is literally true might say something about what details she thinks are noteworthy and commenting on. But for her to assert that something is true as an observation that has no truth to it says something about her lack of perception and might make a very different point. And in either case it does not make any point about academic big wigs, as I think Eric was suggesting. If you and Eric both laughed at that line, even if it was for very different reasons, that is fine. But it is not really an indication that the writing is good if the joke rests in something each of you bring to the line rather than something that is put there by the author.

  20. Greg January 8, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Thank you everybody for adding to my reflection on this story.

    And Diana – I really loved your post. You validated my initial belief that sisters indeed speak to each other that way. Also, I especially enjoyed the below part of your commentary which helped me see the reluctant empathy:

    “The paradox of the narrator’s stated lack of affect, not taking anything personally (certainly a defense mechanism) contrasted with the actually very warm, reciprocal relationship she has with her sister, her concern for the abandoned dog, even her anxious imagination reveals an empathy she desperately fights against. “

  21. Kenneth January 12, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    What about Pawong culture where “fear is a virtue” and the terrorist attack in the story? “The Pawong wouldn’t have let me or Ilse leave without trying to stop us. They have would have reminded us that the subways were closed, that subways were dangerous places, anyway, with all the germs, or that it was a long walk…[etc…]”

  22. Dennis Lang January 12, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Reading the ongoing comments now I’m reminded of “Prufrock”: “Do I dare to eat a peach?” The way T.S. trivialized anxiety, and those vulnerabilities in the face of death. How this author introduces real catastrophe in the wake of trivialities.

  23. William January 14, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    I enjoyed this story. I found it fun to read. Yes, the main character has lots of unreasonable fears, but they are treated almost tongue-in-cheek. She may not appreciate her degree of phobicity (though it’s possible that she does), but the author certainly does. And she writes in a droll way about Julie’s fears. In the interview Bordas says she herself has unreasonable fears, so maybe this is her approach to making fun of herself.

    Here are two passages that exemplify the humor in the story:

    “I suppose [my parents] had even been given a double dose of last-minute reparation, having died an uncommon death on an exceptional day.”

    “a group for people suffering from general anxiety disorder, which I’d joined after dropping out of the group for hypochondriacs, because it didn’t encompass all my worries.”

    I also liked the sister, Delphine, the vet. She reminded me of the cousin in the story about the Argentine husband who disappears in Spiderweb. Both authors understand that when your main character is somewhat of a drip, a dweeb, a wuss, a wimpy whiner, you need a more sparkling character to balance her.

    Here are my two favorite humorous passages for the sister:

    “I know [I’m not really late]. It was just a way to introduce the fact that my last dog took forever to die and maybe fish for a little sympathy.”

    “You’d make such a terrible god,” Delphine said. “You’d never know what to command. You’d beg for everyone’s opinion all the time.”

    After a couple of reads, I was ready to conclude that Julie had changed from worrying about inconsequential things to significant things, because of the true terror of the bombing, her recognition of how few personal contacts she had to check on, and her adopting the dog and helping Delphine to put it to sleep. And texting back to Allan that Prof Croze was ok. But then I read the interview and found these two relevant passages:

    “I’m afraid the answer here is that we probably don’t get to decide what’s worth worrying about.”

    “I’ve met worriers and non-worriers, but never someone who’d gone from being one to being the other.”

    As usual, Dennis Lang expressed one insight better than I could:

    “Love the buoyant contrasts in this story from Glauber to a terrorist attack, the characters, the dialogue, the insight, ultimately its poignancy.”

    By the way, something about Glauber’s name tickled my memory. In German, “glauben” means “to believe”. Don’t know what to make of that.

    The title, too, has some resonance, perhaps signaling the maxim (and Billy Joel song) “Only the good die young”. What does it mean here – most of the fearful die young? It also, of course, contrasts the effect of fear in a primitive society vs. a civilized society (please excuse the use of politically incorrect words, I don’t know how else to say it).

    Did anyone check to see whether the Pawong really exist? When I googled it, I only got hits for this story.

    There are so many other droll passages, like where Glauber says no one ever wished on their death bed that they’d worried more, and Julie says, “Except what if they were crushed by their own house.” And where Delphine instantly manufactures a childhood memory about her and Julie to impress Allan. And where Julie and Ilse discuss quite seriously how they would decide which of Julie and Glauber’s two meeting places to go to in case of the Apocalypse, depending on where it happened.

    Overall, well written and enjoyable.

  24. Greg January 14, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Thank you William for taking the time to spell out all the good things the author did in this story….and, just like Diana did, you emphasized the delightful rapport between the sisters!

    Also, now I can’t wait for this summer to see whether this new author can give us the same pleasure for an entire novel!

  25. Soapy Bubbles January 18, 2017 at 12:04 am

    I enjoyed this story very much, though I agree with Eric’s first post (and other comments) that is it predictable (e.g. angst among those in cultural industries). Even so, I thought there was something uniquely “French” about the story and narrator, though hard to specify exactly what (the remoteness of the professor and the sexual come-on of the other prof might be a part). I found the interior monologue engrossing, at times humorous but mostly appalling in so far as the main character is just like anyone else in her reactions, the real strength of the piece that I can see. I’m going to listen to the author read the story on the NYorker website later this evening.

    In the comments above I do miss a recognition of the the political aspect of the story. The two fictional terrorist attacks recall the recent attacks in Paris in 2015. In the story, the narrator reacts–but to some extent sees the attacks as a hassle to be circumvented.

    Is that supposed to be a critical take on the “real” responses among a certain solipsistic group to terror in Paris? An example of how ordinary people lived through these events? A rejection of the nationalist group think that typically accompanies the aftermath of a terrorist attack? I don’t know, but I think the question is key to understanding the story. The comments on this list for the most part ignore the key element in the story, just like the narrator.

  26. Greg January 18, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Thank you ‘Soapy Bubbles’ for indicating the significance of the terrorist attack in the story. I can’t believe the rest of us didn’t elaborate on this! And I side with the below hypothesis of yours of what the author was trying to convey:

    “A rejection of the nationalist group think that typically accompanies the aftermath of a terrorist attack?”

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