I like David Means’s work, and I’m glad to see he is back in The New Yorker. And folks who enjoyed his 2016 novel, Hystopia, will be pleased to know that in “Are You Experienced?” Means is going back to that alternate world nearly fifty years ago. This story begins with Billy and Meg dropping acid.
They dropped late in the morning and then sat for an hour silently waiting for the kick in Billy’s boarding-house room, the grove of aspen trees on the edge of the field outside quivering in the summer breeze. The house was situated along the old road to the beach, not much more than ten miles from Lake Michigan. Inside, she sat looking at the poster Billy had tacked to the wall: a cartoon figure with a big leg extended, presenting an oversized shoe and, below the heel, the words “Keep On Truckin’.” She was waiting for it to move, which it did, eventually, dancing in a way that seemed remorseful, trying to lure her in, until it turned into an aberration that somehow mirrored Billy himself, thinning out into a slim boy, with a never-ending array of plans, brilliant with his own energies, performing a little gyrating dance—the heavy shoes falling away, becoming dainty little feet (because Billy did have small feet), the hand waving at her to come on in, to join the fun, the way you’d expect an older man to lure a girl in—and she was a kid that summer, just sixteen, and Billy was at least nineteen and, unbeknownst to either of them at the time, about to head off to war.
There seems to have been several New Yorker stories recently where an author builds on a world he or she worked on in a novel or prior collection of stories. These stories are not really sequels, and they stand alone, though of course they benefit if you are familiar with the world and characters already.
What do you think of these kinds of stories? I’m quite curious. I myself enjoy it, usually, when an author returns — even again and again — to a world or character in independent works.
Anyway, even though there is so much turmoil out there, I hope you’re week is starting well and that you’ll let us all know what you think of this David Means story.