Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Mark Haddon's "The Weir" was originally published in the November 16, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.
I first knew who Mark Haddon was when he published The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in 2003. He’d been writing youth titles for fifteen years, and that title straddled the divide between youth literature and adult literature; indeed it was published in two editions, one for children and one for adults, and it won both The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize as well as the Whitbread Book Award for Best Novel. Interestingly, though he’d written over a dozen books for youth, this book also won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, being considered his first book written for adults. I didn’t much care for it, but it really affected a lot of readers. I’m not sure whether there are ardent admirers of his subsequent work for adults — A Spot of Bother from 2006 and The Red House from 2012 — but let us know if they’re worth checking out.
According to Haddon’s interview with Deborah Treisman (here), “The Weir” takes place in Oxford (where Haddon resides), near Wytham Woods, and concerns an attempted suicide.
Here is the first paragraph:
He pops the catch and lifts the rusty boot. Quivering with excitement, the dogs burst from the back of the car, squirm under the lowest bar of the fence, and bolt across the field in great arcing bounds. Leo and Fran, big chocolate-and-white pointers. He drops the chewed and ragged tennis ball into one jacket pocket, the coiled leather leads into the other, grabs the old gripless tennis racket, and slams the boot. He beeps the lock and climbs the stile.
“The Weir” is part of a forthcoming collection of short stories called The Pier Falls and Other Stories. “The Pier Falls” is currently in the running for the hefty (£30,000!) Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award.
Please join in the conversation below — we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Here are Adrienne’s initial thoughts!
I love The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I found it to be powerful and moving and thought-provoking. The exploration into human emotion and the sensation of such was touching and well-portrayed.
I am not as impressed with “The Weir.” It is another story with great potential to be tender and compassionate, honest and vulnerable. A man whose wife has left him (he gets the car with the rust . . .) and his son has abandoned them both, takes his dogs for their daily romp in the fields on the banks of the Thames. Battered tennis balls and racket show us that he is not faring as well he thinks he is.
Then Ian spots a woman, on the weir, behaving strangely in a spot that can only mean thing: she plans to jump. After this extended scene, the emotive drive behind the story seems to loss a little “umph.”
The tale moves into a direction of life’s complexities, yet trying to show continuities of life bring hope. I was waiting for something, but I am not sure what that something was. The ending was wrapped up, though rather messy and poignant, as in life, but I did not walked away moved or pondering. There is no residue left in this piece for me.
There were lines of feeling and imagery to love:
“Enough blue to male a pair of sailor’s trousers.”
“The sour self-pity in her voice, daring him to reach out and have his hand slapped away.”
“. . . as if she were a superhero and this was her power.”
“. . . he’s like a lobster in a warming pot, claws scrabbling at the metal rim.”
“She listens better than anyone he knows. Or maybe it’s just that she doesn’t interrupt. And maybe that’s enough.”
“The Weir” doesn’t feel real to me, but it seems it should. Instead, it seems like I am being told a made-up story. And while I have something akin to pity for Ian, I do not have empathy for him. I see him too far ahead in the distance to even try to connect with him.