“She Said He Said”
by Hanif Kureshi
from the July 22, 2019 issue of The New Yorker
And once again — this is a clear (and, for me, positive) trend — The New Yorker is publishing the work of an author whose fame is largely in the past, and even who writes a significant amount of work for the stage and screen. Hanif Kureishi first published fiction in the magazine in 1994. His last piece was a decade later in 2004. There were only a few pieces in between, but I think that is because Kureishi is mostly known — at least to me — as a playwright and screenwriter, particularly of My Beautiful Laundrette. While he has published seven novels (some quite short) and a few collection of stories since 1990, I haven’t read any . . . if any of you have, please share your thoughts below.
As for “She Said He Said,” we have before us a very short story that moves along briskly. In the first few paragraphs Sushila is propositioned twice — once when drunk and once when sober — by Mateo, someone she and her husband Len considered a friend. Sushila tells Len what has happened, he demands they meet up, Mateo explains. Look at how Kureishi speed things along in this meeting between Len and Mateo:
Mateo apologized without reservation and asked Len to forgive him. But Len said that he didn’t think he was ready to. Forgiving, or forgetting, wasn’t the point. He didn’t understand why Mateo — whom Len thought he knew — had behaved in this way. Mateo said that he had no idea, either, but that it would be best if they put it behind them. Len asked Mateo why he had repeated the offer to Sushila when he was sober and smart enough to know better, and Mateo said that he hadn’t wanted Sushila to think that he wasn’t serious, that she wasn’t really desired.
The story continues to speed right along — Len decides maybe he should see what Mateo’s somewhat estranged wife (they still live next door to one another) thinks about all of this, which causes further trouble, including trouble between Len and Sushila: “He wasn’t her representative, she said.” Len’s retort is that this is a general insult and he “would hate himself if he didn’t speak out.”
In this quick back and forth, resembling the title’s structure, Kureishi manages to put together an interesting and surprisingly nuanced look at what Mateo did, what that means for women, what that means for men, and how to find some way for each to deal with the insulting sexual behavior. It’s not a masterpiece, by any means, but I found it surprisingly refreshing, in style and pace more than in content, in relation to the many long-winded, more self-consciously “profound” stories we’ve read recently that delve into similar territory. This one tries to present some complications. I think it’s successful in doing so, but . . .
I wouldn’t expect Kureishi to bring his voice to the #MeToo movement. He has his own past that calls into question his authority to speak about — or, at least, that challenges our willingness to listen to what he has to say about — anything she-said-he-said. Yet there are many voices out there. His last few paragraphs will, I think, cause concern to many who want a very clear condemnation of Mateo and his ilk. Instead, Mateo has the most poetic paragraph in the story, and Len is the one who walks away confused and uncertain.
I’m very interested in what you all think about this one.