The following stories were originally published in the June 8 & 15, 2015 “Summer Fiction” issue of The New Yorker.
- Zadie Smith: “Escape from New York” (click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage)
- Jonathan Safran Foer: “Love Is Blind and Deaf” (click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage)
- Primo Levi: “Quaestio de Centauris” (translated from the Italian by Jenny McPhee) (click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage)
- Jonathan Franzen: “The Republic of Bad Taste” (click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage)
- Karen Russell: “The Prospectors” (click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage)
It’s that time of year! Yet, sadly, I’m not as excited as I usually am. For me, other than Levi, these authors have been trending down, but I have no problems seeing that change with this issue. Again, we’ll provide some initial thoughts above, and we look forward to discussions about the stories and the issue in general below!
Zadie Smith: “Escape from New York” From Adrienne: Initial impression? I think I tricked myself into some sort of word association at first — instead of “Escape from New York” it registered in my brain as something similar to Escape from Alcatraz. It isn’t that. It is a comedy set into motion by a tragedy. This story examined the way we search ourselves, our companions, when terror strikes and there is a moment, many moments, to reflect. I listened to it on the SoundCloud provided as I was unloading groceries. I kept becoming upset with Zadie Smith for the ultra-feminine voice she used for the character of Michael. It was quite distracting. As a writer, a storyteller, couldn’t she fashion another voice for him? And then I read the Page-Turner interview with her, and discovered that the high-pitched voice was intended to be the voice of Michael Jackson. Marlon was Brandon and Elizabeth was Liz Taylor. Then the story changed even more in my head! It became more amusing, and yet more tragic. The constant fast-food trips — not coming to a unified plan and then eating and waiting for the next meal — sounded child-like, continuing the sensation I had after the first paragraph that the narrator was a man-child. Someone who should be able to function normally, but didn’t . . . couldn’t. I was unsure why I was listening to a story about the extremely wealthy and recognizable. There was a part of me that did not care about their experience with 9/11. But I was drawn in by the macabre humor that comes only when fear, grief, are too deep to bear. I enjoyed it. It was a story — almost like “stories” we read when younger — fantastic, whimsical, true emotion, not cluttered with long scenery and weather . . . It was light. It was simple. It was well-written. An expansion on an urban myth that ended with a beautiful paragraph. Ah, the wry pleasures in being normal and suffering in the exact way everyone else is. I will read now with images of “Thriller,” The Godfather, and National Velvet in my head.
Jonathan Safran Foer: “Love Is Blind and Deaf” The last time I read anything by Foer was when he was inducted into The New Yorker’s 2010 “20 Under 40” series. I was one of the only readers here who liked “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly,” a two-page story some read as a mere gimmick. With this issue, Foer is back with another incredibly short story, this one dealing with a blind Adam and a deaf Eve who “lived together happily for a few days.”
I’m afraid I didn’t care for it. Gimmicky? Maybe not, but too clever by ten:
And, at a certain point, with no awareness of the incremental process that had led them there, they were fully cured of their blindness and deafness. Cured, too, of their marital felicity. . . . . And then the first bruises spread across the first knees, as the first humans whispered the first prayers: Diminish me until I can bear it. But God refused them, or ignored them, or simply didn’t exist enough.
For me, the story was fake. “It worked until it didn’t.” Excuse me? Cleverness, on its own, is not profound. The ending is not clever, though, and certainly seeks to be profound on its own. Instead, it’s just a mess.
Primo Levi: “Quaestio de Centauris” It’s always nice to see The New Yorker find something from the past that, until now, few have seen. Earlier this year, we got a story from Isaac Bashevis Singer, which I enjoyed, and now we get one from Primo Levi, who killed himself in 1987. His writings are supremely important, and I’ve heard good things about this particular story already. I’m looking forward to this one, and I look forward to the thoughts below.
Jonathan Franzen: “The Republic of Bad Taste” Oh dear. I knew this excerpt from Franzen’s forthcoming novel, Purity, was coming, but when I heard it would be included in the Summer Fiction issue I was sad. Is anyone going to read this “story”? Is anyone going to read the novel? Next.
Karen Russell: “The Prospectors” I used to look forward to stories from Karen Russell, the second alum from 2010’s “20 Under 40” here, who also had a story in last year’s fiction issue. For the last few years, though, mostly since her debut novel Swamplandia!, I haven’t liked much of her work. Again, it always feels too clever, any profundity an illusion rather than true. Still, I find myself curious here. I look forward to thoughts below!