by Souvankham Thammavongsa
from the March 1, 2021 issue of The New Yorker

I‘ve never read any of Souvankham Thammavongsa’s work, but I have been hearing about it. Last year, her story collection How to Pronounce Knife won the Giller Prize. It’s been several years ago at this point, but I used to be on the Shadow Giller Jury with KevinfromCanada. I miss that, and I am sad to say that I have not done a good job keeping up with the latest books that were up for that great prize. Nevertheless, I saw that this collection was well received and ended up winning. Thammavongsa is also a poet. I’m glad for this chance to get to know her work!

Here is how “Good-Looking” begins:

Dad thought himself a good-looking man. He was fit, if you like that sort of thing. He was thirty-eight years old and worked at the gym four days a week for eight hours. He was an instructor for a few exercise classes and filled in when others couldn’t make their shifts.

He didn’t wear a wedding ring. He said this was good for business. His boss agreed and encouraged the other male instructors not to wear a ring, if they had one—a wife, that is. Dad was encouraged to flirt with women at the gym. Harmless flirting. Talking and smiling and being friendly, being nice. Leave the rest up to the imagination. Mislead, and then apologize. “Exercise, good health—these things don’t sell gym memberships!” Dad said. If there were female instructors, Dad never mentioned them. For Mom’s sake, I think, and her feelings. He didn’t want her to get any ideas, as she had enough of them already.

That’s a nice, concise foundation for some trouble. Looking at the interview with Thammavongsa (here), I learned that this narrator is the gym instructor’s son, and I am very anxious to read the rest.

Please feel very welcome to comment below. I hope the week begins well for you, wherever you are.

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