by Han Ong
from the June 10 & 17, 2019 issue of The New Yorker
It’s always great to welcome in the summer with the annual New Yorker fiction issue. This year’s issue features three pieces, including Han Ong’s “Javi.”
Han Ong started publishing nearly three decades ago, though most of his work is as a playwright. Between 1990 and 1997, when he was in his twenties, he published fourteen plays (though none that I can see since). He then published two novels in the early 2000s, Fixer Chao and The Disinherited, but none since. I suppose I can feel a little bit okay, then, that I’ve never heard of him.
Here we have “Javi,” which begins with a four-, err, sixteen-year-old boy finding an 82-year-old painter in order to help out:
Are you sixteen or fourteen?
Sixteen. I look younger than I am.
Because if you’re fourteen I can’t hire you.
I can cut firewood. I understand you got a horse? I can feed it. Look after it. I ride, I’ve rode. I see your pickup there. I can drive stick. Bring back some stuff you need from the grocery store, mail your letters at the post office. I can carry your paintings for you. I can carry your paint for you. Buy some more when you need it.
That’s not, perhaps, the most compelling quote I’m pulling there, and the next chunk of the story is a playwright’s back-and-forth between the two, evaluating the need for help as well as the quality of the help being offered. Hopefully this story really packs in some great moments in this relationship.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.