The Vanishing Point
by Paul Theroux (2017)
from The New Yorker website, August 7, 2017

The current New Yorker magazine is one of the handful of two-week issues they release during the year, meaning that this would normally be an off-week. However, this week it’s more “on” than it has been in years. Instead of letting us all take a week off, they have published an online-only novella by one of my favorites: Paul Theroux.

So don’t rest! Usually when I print these out they run between 10-15 pages, but this sits at a healthy 39, so there’s work to be done, and I hope it all pays off!

You can find the story here.

Please comment below. I’d love your thoughts on The Vanishing Point and Theroux in general.

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By |2017-08-09T12:46:00-04:00August 7th, 2017|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Paul Theroux|Tags: |7 Comments


  1. BookerTalk August 7, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    My husband is a great fan of Theroux – mainly his travel writing – so I know who to forward this onto

  2. Charlotte Hughes August 8, 2017 at 10:54 am

    I loved The Vanishing Point by Paul Theroux. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. I loved Guy; the simplicity of his life, his low level of ambition and high level of skill.

    The novella was a refreshingly subtle observation of life. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. Roger August 10, 2017 at 12:11 am

    This made for a pleasant read, though not a terribly exciting one as it ambles along. I think it owes a lot to a particular movie that did very well at the box office back in the 1990s. Anyone else make that connection? Should I name the film or would someone else like to do so?

  4. David August 10, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Roger, I don’t know if I can say these two things without contradicting myself completely, but (1) I am pretty sure you are referring to Forrest Gump and (2) I don’t think it’s very similar to this story. Yeah. I know. But here’s my explanation. Before I read this story, I started to read the interview. Theroux says that he was inspired to write the story after re-reading Gustave Flaubert’s “A Simple Heart”. So I decided to read that story first. Reading the two stories consecutively makes it pretty clear how his story is inspired by it and really a variation on the same theme. If I was going to make a more modern comparison for Guy, it would not be Gump, but Marie, the woman we met a few months ago in Sherman Alexie’s story “Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest”.
    For the most part I liked this story a lot. It would be easy to see Guy as a victim of a number of people he knows through his life who are either unfair to him or just disrespectful. But this is not how Guy sees his life. He is very much a content man, happy with a simple life, and who is more likely to feel pity towards others when someone else might feel anger. I liked the idea of him moving to progressively smaller rooms, but Theroux makes the point a bit more conspicuously than I would have preferred. I also found the ending a bit odd. Is his sudden wealth as he is dying supposed to be ironic? He isn’t going to live long enough to enjoy the money, so it cannot really be seen as any sort of reward for living a good life. It’s also a pretty clearly telegraphed outcome of him saving the canvases early on. But these are not major complaints and overall I was impressed with the story.
    One last comment: I know that there is no rigid boundary line between a short story and a novella or between a novella and a novel, but the minimum length for something to be called a novella is usually 17,500 to 20,000 words. At just under 12,000 words “The Vanishing Point” comes well below that range. Yeah, it’s longer than most New Yorker short stories, but calling it a novella seems a bit much.

  5. Roger August 10, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    David, your answer is correct – Forrest Gump is the movie and I suspect Theroux was influenced at least as much by the Tom Hanks character as by Flaubert. Both Gump and Guy are long on decency and short on IQ, and the combination leads each of them to good fortune. You make a good point, though, about Guy only hitting the jackpot late in life. Maybe Theroux will give us a sequel to remedy this.

  6. David August 10, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Roger, I think this is where I both see why you might think of Gump, but also I disagree. Guy isn’t dumb. Yes, he thinks differently from others about what matters, but he is actually quite intelligent. We are told he is always reading – biographies and history mostly. He talks about Idries Shah’s idea that “when you realize the difference between the container and the content you will have knowledge.” When he says he is reading Andersonville he is surprised that Mrs. Gerwig doesn’t know what war it is about and shields her from embarrassment. He is generally more knowledgeable than she is. With Nicky, he shows he has read and understands the philosophy of Montaigne.
    On more mundane matters, when Babe tells Guy and Mack that the bags are in the “boot”, Mack is confused but Guy knows she means the trunk. He is not fooled by Lane’s game of giving him chocolate instead of paying him for jobs he does. He accepts the chocolate out of pity for Lane’s miserliness. Guy is a simple man, but not simpleminded.
    I am still not sure about the ending, but I think it might be there to make the point that Guy does not care about being wealthy. Yes, he wants to have enough money to cover his expenses and his medical bills are making that difficult, but when he gets the money he puts the cheque on a table and smiles about the leg of the table he repaired and the budding trees outside, not the money. That’s the best I can make of it anyway.

  7. Roger August 10, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    David, much of what you’ve said is persuasive, and I’m finding myself agreeing with you that Guy is, as you put it, simple but not simple-minded. There is, however, a naive, babe-in-the-woods quality to him that makes him Gump-like. For instance,when Mrs. Gerwig doesn’t know which war was the subject of “Andersonville,” Guy is surprised, to the point of being “appalled.” A more savvy person would have already surmised that Mrs. Gerwig is something of a vulgarian who likely isn’t well-read. Similarly, we learn early on that Guy does not think about the morning. Here and elsewhere, we see in Guy a lack of interest in (or aptitude for) making plans, suggesting a lack of maturity. (This changes later as Guy sets goals, such as saving $10,000, and changes more when he fights for that money to the point of hiring a lawyer.) Also, when Stanger fires him at the behest of his nasty wife, Guy is floored, unlike the reader and unlike a more astute character would be. But quite a bit like Gump.

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