Recent short stories in The New Yorker

“The Bunty Club” by Tessa Hadley from the October 28, 2019 issue of The New Yorker.  Hadley has several stories with fugue states embedded in them, where the narrator and reader are no longer sure that the continuation of the story is really the same story or a fairy tale or a dream. Here she does it with the line, “Then Pippa became absorbed…” and she falls asleep and when the doorbell rings she (by the description of the hallway) is now in a castle, with emeralds, topaz, rubies and a heron, kingfisher, and swan. And a handsome peasant at the door. There is no other way to read her description of Sean! So the three princesses …. and later, “Her question couldn’t be answered without invoking the whole fabric of everything.” And the ending, back to the fugue state. The Bunty Club is there standing in for our wonderful capacity as humans to make our own realities? The three women in recalling the Club are making it anew, but Gillian doesn’t want to or can’t until, alone with the call for the hospital, she recreates a quite different Bunty Club, very solitary, with just her in it. I love how Hadley seems to generously invite the reader to fill in so many holes in the lives of these three women (and Sean too!).

“Are You Experienced?” by David Means from the October 21, 2019 issue of The New Yorker. Rather a slight story, presumably part of a novel. A roam through recent times, the 1960s, an era that surprisingly does not show up much in short stories (is my impression). Almost like the mind-bending and sitting around doing nothing is too challenging for fiction. And there is certainly a lot of talking here and commenting and thinking about talking, and the one thing that is done (the theft) is not described and has no consequences, in the story. At the end of the story, I wondered about “the initial opening question” that Means refers to. There does not seem to be an initial question, but there is an “initial waiting,” as Meg waits for the “Keep On Truckin’” character to start moving!

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Joyce Carol Oates from the October 14, 2019 issue of The New Yorker.  I think the “incantations” of the illnesses and procedures is perhaps meant to remind the reader of the distance between the mystical, emotional appreciation of death of the pre-modern era, the “death and and the maiden” era where metaphor and tone were how we humans communicated and shared these powerful occasions of loss, and the modern, medicalized, prosaic era. And, yet, isn’t the theme of the story to remind us that the named illnesses are just a different version of the parent shushing the child: “Have no fear, that is just the fog, the birch, the dappled sunlight, and not the Erlking….” We lullaby ourselves to the ultimate sleep, with new songs. A rakish, mocking, masked Andrew appears at the end. Luce is digging. Black-eyed Susans in the miasma. The second to last paragraph, the tarantella? Is it really Andrew? Or…

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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