by Susan Choi
from the September 7, 2020 issue of The New Yorker
I first read Susan Choi back around 2003 when her novel American Woman was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I also remember when her 2008 novel A Person of Interest was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Since then, though I have not read them, she has published two books, My Education in 2013 and Trust Exercise in 2019, which went on to win last year’s National Book Award. I remember really liking Choi’s work, so I’m not sure why I have been neglecting her work for over a decade.
This one follows Louisa, a ten-year-old girl who has lost her parents. It begins, however, with this memory:
“One thing I will always be grateful to your mother for — she taught you to swim.”
“Why.” Not asked as a question but groaned as a protest. Louisa does not want her father to talk about her mother. She is sick of her mother. Her mother can do nothing right. This is the theme of their new life, in Louisa’s opinion: that Louisa and her father are two fish who should leave her beached mother behind.
Though told in the present tense, this is a bit of the past. The first section ends with this:
These are the last words he ever says to her.
(Or are they just the last words that she can remember? Did he say something more? There is no one to ask?)
“Flashlight” is a story that sits on its own, though apparently it is part of something larger that Choi might bring to fruition at some later date. In her interview with Deborah Treisman, Choi says, “I’ve been wrestling with this material for years, trying to figure out what it wants to be — a short novel, or a long novel, or stories, or one story, or maybe just a bunch of files on my desktop? I’m so glad that at least one part of it — this part — has come together.”
I think the stories that The New Yorker has been publishing lately are pretty strong, and I hope this one is as well. Let me know your thoughts below!