“Blueprints for St. Louis”
by Ben Marcus
from the October 2, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

Though his work is usually received with a mixed response here on the site, I always like to see Ben Marcus show up in The New Yorker. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen his work, with his last coming in October 2015. That story, “Cold Little Bird,” was very well received, getting 45 comments in the discussion below. Most were very positive.

“Blueprints for St. Louis” concerns a fictional terrorist attack on St. Louis and the couple who are charged with designing a memorials for the location. I’m not sure what one can mine from that scenario, but I have some faith in Marcus. I look forward to seeing what you all think in the comments below.

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By | 2017-09-25T15:31:42+00:00 September 25th, 2017|Categories: Ben Marcus, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. David September 26, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    I previously read Marcus’ “The Glow-Light Blues” and did not like it much. It seemed he was more interested in the peculiar and the grotesque than anything else. I also read “Cold Little Bird” and thought it was much better, but really a story I appreciated more than I liked. With this story I was mostly bored. I didn’t really ever care about the relationship of the couple and I am not at all interested in monuments, so using that as his metaphor didn’t help me much. I can’t say it was a bad story because it didn’t engage me enough to really form much of an assessment other than that I was bored. I suspect that Marcus might be an author I would put in the category of being a good writer, but not for me. It’s not a bad category to be in. George Saunders is in it and most people like him quite a bit. À chacun son goût.

  2. Paul Epstein September 26, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    I also don’t like George Saunders at all. There again, as a non-liker, I haven’t read his stories much but I’ve probably read all his New Yorker stories. I suspect lots of people don’t like George Saunders. I think literary success is about having an ardent fan base. If 5% of people love your work, your writing will be successful, even if the other 95% hate it.
    (No, I haven’t read the latest New Yorker story, yet. Will do.)

  3. Roger September 29, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    This story left me cold. The characters never came alive; their voices sound like a writer-intellectual’s voice, not like the voices of a married couple. And for a story about building a monument in a particular city, St. Louis, there was a remarkable lack of particularity with respect to place. Really no sense of place at all. The story mainly felt like a protracted exchange of dialogue in a white space, like two disembodied voices in a big empty white room. Sigh.

  4. Eric September 30, 2017 at 5:56 am

    I thought this was pretty good for what it was, and had some worthwhile things to say. No, they’re not like any real married couple I’ve ever known or heard of, but I believe that’s part of the point, since the story is set maybe 20-30 years in the future; one of the themes seems to be how milennials and iGeners will deal with the same midlife issues affecting today’s Xers. Roy and Ida are hardly representative of an entire generation, but I could imagine some of today’s 20 year-olds turning into this story’s 45 year-olds. I also quite liked how the author linked the decline of the couple’s relationship with the decline in their work–as they become ever more jaded and nihilistic in how they see their work, and the wider world, that seems to bleed over into how they see each other.

    Getting through it was a chore at times, though, particularly the second half. It’s hard to write about bored people without the story getting boring, and hard to write about unlikeable people without the story getting unlikeable.

  5. Rosalind October 2, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Thanks Eric and Roger for confirming my read of this story. I liked his others stories but this one did not hold my interest. Flat with no feel for the couple.

  6. Greg October 8, 2017 at 9:57 am

    Thank you Roger, Eric and Rosalind for your perceptions. And Roger, this comment of yours is dead-on:

    “The characters never came alive; their voices sound like a writer-intellectual’s voice, not like the voices of a married couple.”

    I liked the big ideas at the end of the story the author was conveying about our fear on our chaotic condition in the universe and how we use sentimentality to cope….I also enjoyed these exquisite passages:

    “When she and Roy first got married, whenever ago, Ida’s mother had told her that if people don’t visit you don’t have to host. Period, full stop. And even though Ida’s take on this advice now was off-label, it applied just fine to her toothless union.”

    “…but whatever, hindsight was a foul drug.”

    “He seemed to give it some thought, but there was something unnatural about how theatrically he pondered, as if he already knew what he was going to say but was pausing for effect. This was the Roy who spouted off on arts panels, who was about to spray fine, floral bullshit across the auditorium.”

    “Confessions and denials were equally troubling. Answers in general were so often disappointing. Was there any speech at all that didn’t, in the end, cause a little bit of dejection?”

    “Everyone she grieved for these days was unknown to her, which made her grief seem more like self-pity. Was that true of all grief?”

  7. frymax October 17, 2017 at 10:28 am

    I agree with the other commenters that the dialogue didn’t sound authentic, and I especially did not like the unnecessary (and fairly unbelievable) sci-fi addition of a pharmaceutical mist at the memorial.

  8. Ken November 11, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    I think that Marcus might have a true calling–per the excerpts picked out by Greg–as an aphorist. There are certainly some great phrases and sentences here. I would agree about being uninterested in the characters and their situation and finding them unlikable. I was hardly involved in this on that level. But…I found the intellectual arguments within it interesting enough to keep me going. I keep feeling that Ida is looking towards some sort of transcendence, dare I say an encounter with the Lacanian “real” and the way that this idea kept popping up, along with the clever sentences, kept me going. I can’t, though, imagine ever wanting to re-read this.

  9. Greg November 13, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    I’m glad Ken you liked the excerpts I chosen….and our collective point of not caring for the characters is very similar along the lines to what Jonathan Franzen had tried to convey unsuccessfully to Ben a few years ago….today’s “serious” fiction has to be engaging to the average person!

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