Monday, January 09, 2012

125. SHORT STORY MONDAY: Joshua Ferris and Jonathan Safran Foer

Officially, I am replacing Proverb Monday - after a year and 56 posts- with Short Story Monday hosted by The Book Mine Set. This is meant to monitor and motivate me to read the 100 short stories Kinna and I had set for ourselves. 

Today's set of stories are from The New Yorker June 14 & 21 2010. This Literary edition of the magazine features eight short stories from eight of magazines 20 under 40 lists. The forty includes some authors as Chimamanda Adichie, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nell Freudenberger, Phillip Meyer, John Ferris, ZZ Packer, Tea Obreht, C.E. Morgan, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum among others. I will be reviewing two of the eight short stories today. I will use this feature as an introduction to several authors I have never read before.

The Pilot by Joshua Ferris

Joshua Ferris's The Pilot is a story about a screenwriter recovering from alcoholism. Lawrence Himshell has tasted success before; however, excessive alcohol intake has seen him fall from grace, losing some friends and now shares an apartment with a workaholic musician. Whilst working on a TV series The Pilot which will see him hit top form just as Kate Lotvelt has done with her Death in the Family series he is also shooting commercials in cheap (or tax-friendly) studios. His anxiety is heightened and he becomes jittery when he receives an email from Kate, addressed to her ex-husband and blind-copied, inviting him to a party. After having responded to the message and receiving no response to his response, he began to think that perhaps it was a mistake and that he was not invited; that Kate had had a contact mishap and was not actually inviting him. His anxiety grew, his desperation increased, he felt lonely, insecure and inferior. Should he go to the party? If yes, should he go alone or should he invite his roommate? Dithering on the choice - to go or not to go - he finally settled on going but not with his friend. Yet, he invited him and he turned him down. He thought everyone had forgotten about him, no one remembers him - even though her mother had been calling him everyday for almost two years as part of his therapy. 

At the party, Lawrence was happy to find that he was really invited and that there are those who were interested in his project - The Pilot. Then there was a drink, then another, and another. Yet, it was here that Lawrence found providence, hope, and the confidence to begin all over again even after his manuscript got burnt.

Like most short stories, there is a lot going on here but the author condenses them for the reader to unravel because in this genre of fiction writing, every word is important, like poetry. 
Here we aren't, so Quickly by Jonathan Safran Foer

The narrative style used by Safran Foer in this story is unique. It reads almost like poetry. It has cadence and was almost written metrically though I thought that had the story being slightly longer than this - that is, a long short story - the reader will have become burdened with the read. As an example of what I mean, this is the first paragraph of the story:
I was not good at drawing faces. I was just joking most of the time. I was not decisive in changing rooms or anywhere. I was so late because I was looking for flowers. I was just going through a tunnel whenever my mother called. I was not able to tell if compliments were backhanded. I was not as tired as I said.
And in this similar pattern, using short, cryptic sentences mixing the first person singular with the second person and then the first person plural, Jonathan Safran Foer tells the story of man reflecting upon his life with his wife after so many years of marriage. He tells of all the good, the bad, the ugly, the things he should have done but didn't, his fears, his shortcomings, his observations of her, the things they did together, the challenges they faced, how they met. And the geriatric related changes. The story moves gradually and progressively, from when they met till now, aged and weak with a child who had married and left home. It's like a reel of cinematic still-pictures rolling on a white calico. 

Both stories were interesting and both authors are new to me. With these I hope to test their more larger works of fiction.


  1. I have recently discovered short stories and find that I really enjoy them. Thanks for the introduction to "new to me" authors.

  2. I enjoy short stories very much, especially those that are well written and keeps you thinking about the story even after you're done reading.

  3. I like the sound of the Safran Foer story. It does read like rhymes almost. I'm glad there is more company for Short Story Monday.

  4. @Kinna and this was how the whole story was written. I enjoyed it as the structure was new to me.

  5. Joshua Ferris has written a piece that encourages even the most wretched of all to rise up and move on. That indeed, you are the author of your own future/destiny. The reader is given assurance that even with the burnt manuscript,Lawrence's future is secured because he has hope. I like this short story.

  6. @Celestine, and I like what you took from this short story. We are the only architects of our lives.


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