by Jonathan Franzen
Originally published in the May 31, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

Click for a larger image.

I really liked this story from its first, strange paragraph — which leads to this nice line, “Patty grew up in Westchester County, New York. She was the oldest of four children, the other three of whom were more like what her parents had been hoping for.” — to the sad last paragraph.

Patty is a female athlete, much to her parents’ confusion. She’s competitive, aggressive, and very successful, though no one really recognizes it. Her mother is a politician, always trying to fight for justice; her father is an attorney who “bought the right to be privately eccentric by doing good public legal works.” Franzen’s descriptions of this family and of Patty’s demeanor is fascinating in its two pages. Then the story goes to this:

As far as actual sex goes, Patty’s first experience of it was being raped at a party when she was seventeen by a boarding-school senior named Ethan Post.

Some might object to the tone, but I find Franzen’s choice here to fit well with the story’s overall effect. I imagine rape is a difficult topic to write about, but I found Franzen’s story to be full of observations that are important to showing the ironies and hypocrisies that surround us.

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