Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Paul La Farge’s “Rosendale” was originally published in the September 29, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.
This will surprise many of you, due to my lack of contribution even on stories I’ve enjoyed of late, but I did read this story and am here to say . . . well, very little about it. I didn’t like it much at all, despite being generally favorable to La Farge’s work. And had you told me before I read it that this story had an obtrusive third-person narrator who explicitly transitions to the next part of the story, a pseudo-mother/daughter relationship that (also explicitly) hearkened back to Frankenstein‘s tropes, and a horrific golem, I would have been excited indeed. Add on that he took a character from “Another Life” (thoughts here) and expanded on her here, and I’m in. It just sounded ambitious and fun. But it really fell flat for me.
The young protagonist in this story is April P. As the story begins, she has moved to Rosendale, into the home of Dara — a toucher (April P was not warned) — ostensibly in order to write.
Writing was supposed to be the point of this adventure. April P came here to start another life, one she had barely begun to imagine for herself and still wasn’t sure she deserved. She was going to become April P, the writer. The centerpiece of her transformation was a memoir called “Bar Girl,” about her time tending bar at a notorious Boston hotel. She wrote the first chapter in a memoir workshop at the community college where she was supposed to be studying business communications, and her teacher, Valerie, praised it to the skies. Then, without warning, April P’s heart began to emanate the exciting certainty that she would not stay in Boston. She asked Valerie for advice, and it was Valerie who suggested Rosendale and put her in touch with Dara.
Of course, actual writing hasn’t happened in the first four months. And Rosendale is a town where nothing happens. April P quickly sinks into general apathy, becomes a stripper, and she and Dara are forced to reckon with one another while a golem that Dara created generally terrorizes April P.
But I think my problem can be traced in that paragraph I quoted above. That is a long expository paragraph — and its style does nothing to make it anything but expository — that really says little of interest. At least La Farge let’s us know this in one of the narrator’s interjections about the structure of the story; before long, the narrator says:
But this is all background information. The actual story of Rosendale begins on a rainy Monday evening in March, when Dara comes home and finds April P curled up on the futon in the living room, reading Dara’s copy of “Frankenstein.”
Okay, I was anxious for the story to get going. But, and I feel I’m being unfair, my general impression of “Rosendale” as a whole is much the same as my impression of that “background information.” It all feels rather expository. The effect for me is that it deadened the ultimate emotional impact and made the story’s conclusion, where we see how April P and her writing fit into the story we’re reading, feel clever rather than strong.
In general, then, I feel “Rosendale” is a lot of good ideas put together but never quite polished up. Or, since I cannot imagine it wasn’t polished and put together in just the way La Farge and the editors wanted it, it just feels like it followed the wrong impulses. I’m anxious for anyone’s thoughts, but I’m particularly interested to hear from those who disagree with me. I’d like to see more here than I do at this point.