“Ways and Means”
by Sana Krasikov
from the August 27, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

Last year, Sana Krasikov was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. I myself have never read any of her work. The last time she was published in The New Yorker was April of 2008, and I don’t think I read that story, called “The Repatriates.” Before that, she published “Companion” in the October 3, 2005 issue; this story went on to win an O’Henry Award. Her work must be impressive, though, because on the basis of a slim body, she not only got Granta’s honor, but in 2008 was a National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35.” In 2009 she was a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for distinguished first book of fiction, and won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Fiction. All of that was for her debut collection of stories, One More Year, released in 2008.

After One More Year came out, though, there was a long period between publications. Her next work, a debut novel called The Patriots, came out in October of last year. Some times I wonder if flooding a young writer with praise helps or hinders. Regardless of how everything may have played out for Krasikov, I’m excited to see what she’s doing.

“Ways and Means” looks quite interesting from the piece I read this morning. Oliver, a seasoned and old presence at a public radio station, has been placed on indefinite leave due to his conduct with a young podcaster. It begins with Oliver’s apology. In her interview with Cressida Leyshon (here), Krasikov says she got the idea “from months of reading one public apology after another, and feeling that they read less like apologies to specific victims and more like genuflections to a political movement.”

But “Ways and Means” doesn’t appear to be all about Oliver’s apology or about taking down this particular man. The person we follow most in the story is Hal, an audio engineer who has worked at the station for a decade, who once had an affair with Oliver, and who doesn’t believe the accusations. Krasikov’s explains that she hopes to explore this time “when individual morality has given way to a more politicized ‘group morality.'” Sounds interesting, and I hope she succeeds at giving us a nuanced exploration of this time we live in.

Does she? Please leave your comments below!

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By |2018-08-20T12:45:06+00:00August 20th, 2018|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Sana Krasikov|Tags: |7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. David August 21, 2018 at 9:04 am

    I read very few novels the same year they are published. Stories in The New Yorker are my main source of reading fiction that has been written very recently. So it is always a bit strange for me when reading fiction that seems like it could have been written five minutes ago. And especially when it tries to address a very controversial current political or social issue, I always read with some apprehension that the story is really just a vehicle created to give the author a soapbox to stand on. Having Zadie Smith’s “Now More Than Ever” appear recently did not help in this regard. “Ways And Means” seems to me to be the kind of story where most discussion it will generate will end up being about what people think of the #metoo movement, and not really the story as a work of fiction at all. In fact, early on in reading it I was quite convinced that The New Yorker decided to publish it because they were hoping for a repeat of the “Cat Person” phenomena from last December.
    .
    All of this means I found myself a fairly distracted reader of the story and will need to read it again now that I can be more comfortable going into it knowing it’s not really at its core a political story (although I actually wondered at one point if the author wrote the story just as an excuse to use the name “Adolph Twittler”). I will have to wait for a second reading to really know how much good stuff there is in this story, but it says something that I do want to read it again and am optimistic about a rereading. There is one part that I already know I liked a lot and actually would have liked to see a whole story centred around. This is where Hal talks about leaving the show and how the new technician did not do the little edits she had done that helped make Oliver look good. Just a story of them having had a relationship, it ending, her requesting a transfer, and him losing popularity after would have made for a good story.
    .
    I suspect it would be easy to rewrite this whole story without any #metoo aspect to the story and it still work quite well. In the interview the author makes it clear that the story started for her with the idea of her reaction to the form that public apologies were taking, so I can see why this isn’t a direction she considered. But if I’m right that it could have been written that way, then the story might be more interestingly a portrait of Hal than anything else and thus not really a story that needs to be seen only as about current political and social issues. I dunno. Not yet, anyway.

  2. Julian Wyllie August 21, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    What we get here is another current events story, which unfortunately almost never leads to any interesting epiphanies for me about storytelling. I felt the story lacked mystique.

    The only “fun” thing I picked up on was the central character literally mixing and mastering a man’s voice for public radio, which I assume is a narrative convenience and a symbol for how she works in the background but is often more powerful than the giant male personality. I agree with David that a two-character story about them would’ve been more compelling and could’ve unfolded into something dramatic. I’m thinking a Five-Forty-Eight homage?

    Otherwise I think it’s just OK but not much more than that. I’m sure it’ll get some traction though because of the setting and the topic.

  3. Ken August 24, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    I thought that Krasikov both commented on a current social issue and wrote a complex work of fiction in which a character’s ambivalence is charted carefully. On one hand, she deftly skewers some of the more McCarthyist aspects of the current situation (which she cleverly sees as sublimation for the real desire–to bring Trump down) and of certain p.c. notions, but she also shows a complex, interesting, hard-to-pigeonhole character (who she even acknowledges might look ‘gay’ by those who aren’t more aware) struggling with a dilemma. The grand irony–the personal always trumps everything and she ends up most likely not helping Oliver. This could be seen as playing into a stereotype of female emotionalism but it read to me more like a harsh, true irony about people.

  4. Hanrod August 26, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    “Nuanced” it is, indeed; and at first those nuances made me think it might be deeply reflective and critical about our social “current events” and the currently politically correct, but likely devolving, positions on them. Unfortunately, her ending damaged those hopes. It would have been good, perhaps, to end it with some revelation that the central character’s (not the narrator) attorney had also been named in some similar situation; and better, given very current developments, that the narrator herself learns that she too has been “named”. The writer seems to have some background, or research, in public radio/tv, and I wonder how many people see Garrison Keiler as the central character.

  5. Larry Bone August 31, 2018 at 11:22 pm

    I think David’s comment that “Ways and Means” reads like an essay that could have been written 5 minutes ago is very much on track.  Specifically, it seems like a nonfiction expose written as fiction, using novelistic techniques like an old “New Journalism” piece run in New York Magazine by editor Clay Felker. 

    Since Felker is no more, it could be a nonfiction piece in The New Yorker.  But in this case, the author instead, changes the names and configures it into a very short fiction piece.

    Novelist Truman Capote did something like this in his unfinished novel, “Answered Prayers.”  Capote knew rich women who supposedly told him all about the social “faux pas” dirt about theirs or other womens’ husbands.

    One reviewer called it, “a somewhat sordid tale of the mixing of high and low social classes, drawn from his experiences as best friend and confidant to the most prominent female socialites of the era and their husbands.”  Oliver seems a bit like a rich woman’s husband so “Ways and Means” reads like a somewhat forshortened quick “sordid tale.”

    Some people like fiction that is intensely realistic without much plot, without much character development or conflict.  Nuance and shading is meant to make up for all that is missing that would make it more literary.  As it is, “Ways and Means” seems like a social xerox of an uncomfortable situation. 

    Some people felt the “New Journalism” subverted its literary pretentions by being too realistic.  Joan Didion’s piece, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” from “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” shows the advantages and shortcomings of the form with a much more dramatic event.

    It is as though Krasikov is a modern day Joan Didion, who snagged an interview with Oliver in the presence of his lawyer, Eric.  This after securing exhaustive interviews with Hal and Molly St. Clair and changed their names for the  story.

    I admire how one can imagine how Krasikov uses a sort of photographic reconstruction of her “interview” notes on how Hal felt and her feelings about Oliver’s feelings based on her conversations with him.  We only get Molly St. Clair’s feelings from the HR notes (probably written by a friend of Petra’s in HR) in their legal memo provided to Eric.

    I think of Molly as the falcon and Oliver as the falconer when I read this quote from W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming.”

    “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; . . . The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction…”

    And I understand Oliver from this quote from Manu Joseph”s novel, “Serious Men”:

    “That the fellowship of men, despite its joyous banter, old memories of exaggerated mischief and the altruism of sharing pornography, was actually a farcical fellowship.  Because what a man really wanted was to be bigger than his friends.”

  6. Jocelyn mel September 12, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    I agree with David. It was a rich, funny, and provocative piece. It gave me some interesting ledges on which to perch and reflect. I’m going to go buy her novel now.

  7. William September 12, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    David —

    I hope your re-reading led you to grade the story more highly then your initial impression., I liked it. Especially the ending, about how she felt like she was taking off her headphones — a great metaphor for disconnecting from Oliver.

    Yes, the story seems “ripped from the headlines”. But it is a freestanding story, in my opinion, not a simple political document For me, one of the virtues of the story is that it doesn’t dwell in the “he said-she said” territory of Mamet’s “Oleanna”. In the end it is not even about the severity of Oliver’s actions relative to Molly. It is about Oliver’s vain male ego that led him to hunt after Molly at the same time that he was with Hal. Oliver is not condemned (by Hal) for his actions toward Molly, but toward Hal.

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