“The Presentation on Egypt”
by Camille Bordas
from the May 20, 2019 issue of The New Yorker

“The Presentation on Egypt” is the third time Camille Bordas’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker. While there are several authors who appear several times, this is particularly exceptional because Bordas was writing in French until she moved to the United States in 2012. Her debut English-language novel, How to Behave in a Crowd, was published in 2017, following two novels she wrote in French. For the most part, the two stories she has already published in The New Yorker were received well by readers here; here’s the post for “Most Die Young,” and here is the post for “The State of Nature.”

I think, without having read the entire story yet, that “The Presentation on Egypt” will also be well received. I think Bordas knows what she is doing.

It wasn’t his job to explain it over and over, to sit the families down and say, “The husband/the brother/the son you knew is no more, it’s only machines breathing for him now, and you wouldn’t be letting him go, because he’s already gone.” He was the surgeon, not the organ-donation person, not the social worker, not a friend. His job was to say it once. Once was often enough — families would unplug a loved one within a few hours. But certain people required extra attention. TV shows he’d heard of (TV shows his own wife watched) had led some to believe that desperate cases were never that desperate, that all you had to do, really, was to keep asking the surgeon, and the surgeon, because you kept him focussed and engaged in the case, would suddenly light up, go to the lab for half a day, find a solution to reverse your loved one’s vegetative state, and hug you warmly at the end of it all.

The doctor considering his role here is Paul. By the end of this short first segment, in which he tries to matter-of-factly help a grieving wife turn of her husband’s machine, Paul will have hanged himself. The story then shifts to Anna, Paul’s wife, and Danielle, Paul’s nine-year-old daughter, in the aftermath.

Please let us know what you thought of the story. Once I finish it, I think it’ll be time for me to seek out Bordas’s novel. Have any of you read it? If not, does this story make you want to?

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