“The First World”
by Joseph O’Neill
from the July 2, 2018 issue of The New Yorker
It’s fitting that as I start to look at the ten-year anniversary of The Mookse and the Gripes that we get a story by Joseph O’Neill. His Netherland was among the books I first reviewed back in July 2008, and I have fond memories. Indeed, I was reading Netherland in the hospital when my second son, fittingly named Holland, was born that year on July 19, my own birthday! It was a wonderful time, and very memorable.
I haven’t particularly enjoyed much of O’Neill’s work since Netherland, though. But I previewed “The First World” a bit just now, and it looks like he’s delving back into personal loss, the struggle for hope, and unlikely friendship, which were things I liked most about Netherland. Here is the first paragraph of “The First World”:
My marriage came to an end, with consequences that were almost all beyond my powers of anticipation. One such consequence was that a series of men confided in me about their marriages past or present. These weren’t my old buddies—my old buddies suddenly viewed me with a kind of fear. These were guys with whom I’d had friendly but arm’s-length dealings: a father at my kids’ school; the contractor who was painting my new place; or, to take an astounding case, my dermatologist. Previously his opinions had been restricted to the perils of moles; now he opened up, unprompted, on the pros and cons of monogamy as he’d experienced them. Either these men had heard about my new situation or something about me, some post-apocalyptic air, had led them to sniff it out.
O’Neill recently published a short story collection called Good Trouble. “The First World” is not one of the eleven stories contained therein, which makes me wonder if it’s part of a forthcoming novel or if O’Neill is just starting a new cycle of stories.
At any rate, that’s all beside the point! How did you like the story? Please feel free to share your thoughts on it, O’Neill’s work, or anything else you feel will help foster a nice conversation.