“The Boy Upstairs”
by Joshua Ferris
from the June 6, 2022 issue of The New Yorker
It’s Memorial Day in the United States as I sit to write this, and my kids all finished school and are looking forward to summer holidays. I was kind of hoping the summer fiction issue would be this week since we’ll be taking off for a vacation, but that’s not to be so. Still, a new story by Joshua Ferris is a good way to start the week.
Though I’m not sure this is one that will brighten the mood!
She was often tempted to be done. She was tempted, but she would never do it. She had principles, and she had pleasures, too, sources of dumb joy. She had her husband and her dog. She had her books. True, books were also a source of anguish, as was her husband. But, on the whole, there was more upside than downside to books and husbands. She taught two classes a semester, and in her spare time made sense of her thoughts in papers submitted to journals of philosophy. She despaired over her low acceptance rate. The adjuncting gig was necessary but paid next to nothing. With her husband, she owned a small clapboard house with green shutters and a decaying front porch where sat a pair of teal Adirondack chairs made of plastic. They had no children.
She was tempted, but never would. To her, the temptation was not a sign of despair but a sane acknowledgment of the world we live in, and sane acknowledgment was its own source of comfort. She would carry on. She would put gas in the car. She would park and feed the meter. When she couldn’t find any coins under the floor mats to feed the meter, she would go from shop to shop with her dollar bill, asking the clerks to make change. Life was made up of these little hassles—and of big tragedies, too, incalculable cruelties, things that no right-thinking person should abide.
I have been enjoying Ferris’s work more and more over the years, and I’m definitely intrigued to know more about this woman and where we’re going in “The Boy Upstairs.”
Please feel free to share your thoughts below!