“Waugh”
by Bryan Washington
from the October 29, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

Bryan Washington’s debut book, a collection of stories called Lot, comes out next March. I see he’s published fiction and nonfiction elsewhere (The Paris Review, Tin House, The Awl, for example), but this is the first time his work has been in The New Yorker, and it’s the first time I’ve seen his name. I’m always happy to see a new author succeed at getting work in The New Yorker, and I’m excited by the prospect of a new voice.

In “Waugh” Washington explores the community/family aspect of a group of male sex workers in Houston. We didn’t get a lot of commentary on last week’s story (so far, I’m the only one, and that’s a very rare occurrence), so I hope you’ll all feel welcome to share your thoughts on “Waugh” and whether it makes you excited to see more of Washington’s work.

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By |2018-10-22T12:56:22+00:00October 22nd, 2018|Categories: Bryan Washington, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Dennis Lang October 22, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Right. “Flaubert Again”. Is that a first for the Mookse, a zero comment story? I found it engaging (like a poem or a Calder mobile) but bewildering. Was hoping for the reaction from the usual suspects for their take. Well, still time….

  2. Julian Wyllie October 22, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    I decided to listen to this story instead of reading it, which is something I never do. With that said, based on the author’s tempo, the story doesn’t have many spaces for readers to breathe or reflect. Instead we get scene after scene, which is admirable in that it’s clear and concise, but I wish this was a bit more absurd, funny or heart-wrenching. I’m not sure I’ll remember this after a day.

  3. David October 22, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    Trevor, the last two weeks the stories did not inspire me enough to comment – either positively or negatively. But this week I’m more optimistic. I am right now very much enjoying Jamal Brinkley’s NBA nominated book of short stories (A Lucky Man) and recently read and loved Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ NBA nominated book of short stories (Heads of the Colored People) so I’m ready for another new short story writer with an impressive list of magazine publications and a collection coming soon. Just give me a few days to get to it….

  4. Roger October 22, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    This is one of the best stories I’ve read in the New Yorker in a long time. The outstanding dialogue propelled the plot and put life on every page. The characters and the milieu in which they lived were deftly depicted and made this story memorable. This is a writer to pay attention to.

  5. kensuiyim October 24, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    I loved this story, but I knew that going in. I agree with what Roger has said already, and would add that another positive is the richness of the language – the funny way that even when I didn’t know exactly what the words meant, I got enough of a sense from the context. It reminded me of another New Yorker writer, Junot Diaz’s use of Spanish – though in that case, I find I rely on prior knowledge. Here, the slang is so fresh, and dare I say, authentic (though how would I know?).

    I found it telling that Rod’s real name was John, and john is also the name of his occupation, for what that’s worth – very Shakespearean.

    It’s very easy to sink into sentimentality or judgement when it comes to people who live and work in a realm outside what is conventional or “normal”. The author avoids this by making the characters experience universal – the concept of keeping a secret because of that emotion we all know – pride. Even though it’s an age-old dilemma, the story particularizes the narrative to this individual, so you feel its significance.

    It’s a story that made me see the world anew, see people I encounter in the streets of Boston with keener eyes, see my own personal history in the harsh light of day.

  6. David October 25, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    I finally had time to read this story today. It was easily one of the best stories The New Yorker has published this year. Thinking about the story after I finished, it seems to me that the plot is not very remarkable nor are the individual characters particularly novel or exceptional, but the writing of the story made both of these very compelling. There is nothing particularly flashy about the writing and the way Washington read the story was almost a monotone, yet I found myself thoroughly engaged. I agree with Roger’s comment about the skill with which Washington constructs dialogue.
    .
    The story ends without a clear resolution to the action, but more than that it felt like a very abrupt ending. In fact, I double checked to make sure I did not accidentally miss a final paragraph. The effect is to suggest that the last sentence, “He looked for a long time.” is not meant to just describe the day that the previous paragraph refers to, but to suggest that the search went on indefinitely.
    .
    I don’t know if I will have time in the near future to seek out his other published stories, but Bryan Washington is definitely a writer I want to read more of.

  7. William October 26, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    I liked this story too. I will write more later, but right her I want to ask how you get to the place on the website where you hear authors reading their work? I find it nearly impossible to navigate the site.

  8. David October 26, 2018 at 11:21 pm

    William, when they make an audio recording of the author reading the story available it appears at the top of the page (between the title of the story and the start of the story). You don’t go to a different page. If you ever have trouble finding the stories, just go to https://newyorker.com/magazine/fiction where they have a chronological index of links to the recent stories.

  9. William October 27, 2018 at 10:24 pm

    David —

    Thanks for that info. I am one of the last dinosaurs — I read the NYer on paper. My wife has an online subscription and I listened to the story on her ipad. I only listened to enough to get the tone of Washington’s voice. Obviously very flat. (Even the way he pronounces “Waugh” is, paradoxically, evocative.) The flat tone befits a story about young men who keep a close rein on their emotions. Or perhaps that is his natural voice. Or perhaps both – maybe he was/is one of those young men. I know we’re not supposed to jump from story to author. Still, it’s clear that Washington knows that life intimately.

    From the first sentence of the story I was pulled in. It feels so real, like a journalistic narrative. Only more skillfully told. I read all the way through without stopping to ask whether the story was good or what it meant. The writing spoke for itself. I never felt like the telling stumbled. It was superficially simple, yet intensely literary. (As I wrote that sentence, I thought of “The Dead”.) As David said, it was not flashy. But it had impact. Washington portrayed his characters’ struggles in a way that was not dramatic, but that made me care about them.

    At the end, I was OK with the indefinite last sentence. I think David got it right –

    “The effect is to suggest that the last sentence, “He looked for a long time.” is not meant to just describe the day that the previous paragraph refers to, but to suggest that the search went on indefinitely.”

    I would only add that the search is not just for Rod, but for a life in which Poke could be satisfied. His life with Emil was good, but not the best he could do.

  10. Diana October 29, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    I havent commented for almost a year because no story in that time has really roused a strong enough response in me. But I found this week’s story by David Washington so impressive. The particular gift of this writer is that because of his perceptive portrayal of these individuals, who happened to be gay hustlers, their specific situation becomes almost incidental to the purpose of the story – to show the universality of their various behaviors, motivations, virtues, blind spots – of their humanity. Their particular set of circumstances determined the theater in which they operate and might be different from mine, but Washington portrays their responses to the challenges their very challenging lives present in such s clear-eyed low-key manner. Poke, Rod, Nacho, like me, are trying to make lives for themselves as best they can. A pimp can be a hero to a homeless boy – “Some days he looked like the Rod who had taken Poke in. Shining with a stride. The captain of his space. Most days he did not. Most days he just looked lost. But Poke watched him regardless.” And that’s what was so surprising about this story – I’m a 74 year old, old lady and Washington allowed me to see that these men are not the “other” I thought they were when I began the story – they are me.

  11. Diana October 29, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    David Washington sb Bryan Washington

  12. Anna October 30, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Of all the stories available when I checked the New Yorker Writer’s Voice podcast, this is the one that I wanted to listen to immediately and I did. Thank you, Deborah Treisman! Washington, despite the hip monotone of the reading, has brought some much appreciated high energy.

  13. Rosalind Kurzer October 30, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    This story meets the criteria of all I want.; characters I can believe in, balance between style and content and the language that lets me know that I’m reading a gifted writer. It’s been a long wait for the real deal.

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