“The Sightseers”
by David Gilbert
from the November 20, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

The last time David Gilbert published a story in The New Yorker (“Underground,” which we posted on here), he pleased many regular commenters here but disappointed others, who said the topic was well-worn, but who nevertheless admired the skill behind the story. In “The Sightseers” Gilbert goes to New York and the haves and have-nots again, threatening to disappoint those who want him to push the boundaries a bit.

I haven’t read this one yet, so I don’t know any more how it does or does not relate to “Underground,” and I don’t have any thoughts on whether he is doing something “new” here. That said, I find Gilbert’s talent undeniable, and sometimes that’s enough to satisfy me, even if I would prefer the talent combined with some particularly fresh take on material (which Gilbert has offered before).

I look forward to seeing what you all think of this one!

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By | 2017-11-13T15:04:43+00:00 November 13th, 2017|Categories: David Gilbert, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |4 Comments


  1. David November 15, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    This story was ok, but nothing too special. As I read it I was reminded of a story by Charles Yu called “Standard Loneliness Package” (A version of the story can be read here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/standard-loneliness-package/ It’s also included in his recent book, Sorry, Please, Thank You) That story is about a world where rich people can pay to “offload” unpleasant emotional experiences that are experienced for them by employees at a call center. The story is told from the point of view of one of the employees. I like Yu’s story more than Gilbert’s and when I started to think about why I realized that this story might have been much more interesting if it were told from the point of view of the Heron family. Here is how that might look:
    The mother is very excited about the trip and very grateful to Robert and Paulette for paying for it and always concerned to make sure they get good footage for them to watch. The son is resentful of the arrangement and feels like he is being used by Robert and Paulette. The daughter doesn’t think at all about their sponsors and is just having a lot of fun on the trip. And the father is trying to keep the son’s complaints from ruining the trip and generally just trying to keep things moving. The end could be the family arriving to the theater to see Wicked and while they are waiting to go in the father’s eye is caught by a couple he notices who seem to be looking at his family. He wonders if these people might be Robert and Paulette coming to check up on them, but before he can find out or say anything to them the family goes in to the theater.
    Reversing the family that is the primary focus still allows him to explore the same idea, but it seem to me that the Heron’s are the more interesting family. What the story as written is mostly is a description of rich people oblivious to the extent of their privilege with only Robert seeming to have some realization of the impact of what they are doing when, at the end, he imagines the Heron’s might actually want to seek him out and harm him. That’s ok, but a bit meh.

  2. Paul November 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    I loved this story. David Gilbert is a consistently phenomenal writer–always happy to see a story from him. This one feels especially relevant in today’s political climate

  3. Dennis Lang November 18, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    A devastating perspective on the lives of the self-aggrandizing filthy rich, driven by social status and recognition, the lives of the “philistines” beneath them nothing but playthings. For Robert there is the creeping anxiety, a resistance, searching for clarity, something permanent has been lost in fulfilling the vacuous societal role imposed upon him by his economic good fortune. In the end the dog disappears. I thought of the sled in “Citizen Kane”.

  4. Roger November 18, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    This is one of those stories that fails because the writer has almost no compassion for his characters. With very little exception, he devotes himself to holding them up to ridicule. If the writer doesn’t much care about his characters, why would the reader? There is very little heart here, although there are plenty of stylistic pyrotechnics.

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