by David Gates
from the January 15, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

I‘ve read plenty of articles by David Gates, but I don’t think I’ve ever read any of his fiction, though he’s written plenty. His breakthrough came twenty-five years ago, when his debut Jernigan was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Since then he has published one other novel, Preston Falls, and two short story collections, The Wonders of the Invisible World and A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me. If that seems like a small output over a quarter century, that may be because Gates has been a prolific critic and journalist; he wrote about books and music for Newsweek until 2008.

He has published one other story in The New Yorker, “A Secret Station” in 2005. I’m glad to see he’s still going!

I look forward to seeing what you all think of the story, so join in the conversation below.

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By | 2018-01-08T12:26:46+00:00 January 8th, 2018|Categories: David Gates, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |2 Comments


  1. David January 9, 2018 at 8:50 am

    The story was ok, but nothing too special. When writers write about other creative people I often feel like there might be a different perspective that they have of these people that does not always translate clearly to the non-artist reader. I read the author interview and have two comments based on that. First, I was glad to hear him tell about how he put the first work he did on this story in a drawer because he was not sure where to go with it. I have criticized other stories here in the past for seeming to be written based on half an idea. Gates talks about avoiding the cliche of having Garver have an affair with Lois. That was the right call. A lesser writer would have written that version of the story anyway because they didn’t have a better idea and would then have justified it as a “fresh take” on a familiar idea or even tried to call it some sort of deconstruction or commentary on the cliche. All fancy talk for “I went for the cliche because I didn’t have any other ideas and didn’t have the discipline to put it in a drawer until I got some”. Points to Gates.
    The other interview-based comment is I am surprised by Gates’ explanation of Garver’s weed smoking with Ben. Gates says that Garver “envies Ben’s youthful promise and confidence and wants to ruin him.” I really don’t see this in the story at all. He only smokes with Ben twice. The first time is before Lois has mentioned not smoking with him and the second time is a long time later. Ben has already told him that the idea was to cut back on, not cut out smoking entirely. The idea that they should smoke is also one that Ben raises and Garver’s first response is to remind Ben that Lois would not approve. After Ben indicates he still wants to smoke anyway Garver agrees. Garver isn’t Ben’s father (and sounds like someone who was not a great father anyway), so it reads to me more that Garver is just going to let Ben do what he wants, not that there is any thought that this will lead to Ben’s ruin. If Gates wants to create the impression that this is part of what is going on in the scene, he needs to run it through the typewriter another time.

  2. Greg January 20, 2018 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks David for your above points on writing and how the writer successfully and unsuccessfully navigated them.

    I found the dialogue to be very clever….it felt so authentic!

    Lastly, this observation made me laugh out loud:

    “So he’d just finish a new one and stack it against the wall with the others. Maybe they’d be taken for intentional kitsch someday – he’d be the Jeff Koons of 2099.”

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