Monday, January 23, 2012

129. SHORT STORY MONDAY: Philipp Meyer and Rivka Galchen

 These two stories were taken from The New Yorker June 14 & 21, 2010.

What You Do Out Here, When You're Alone by Philipp Meyer
Max and Lilli had moved from their modest home in Huntsville to a plush neighbourhood in Oaksville. Unlike Huntsville, they were almost unknown in Oaksville, uninvited to parties and were living under the shadows of the teeming 'filthy' rich. Their new neighbourhood was the place where one could be 'sued for painting [his] mailbox the wrong color, for putting up the wrong fence, for installation of unapproved rooting materials...' But Max was not happy for several reasons. Not because his Porsche business was bad, for he was the 'best Porsche mechanic in Texas, the entire Southwest, if he was hones', in fact business was good and could even do favours for those who could not afford his services.

Max was not happy because of Lilli, through whose boss at Goliad Associates, they had heard about the Oaks building, which though had been obtained at half the market price was still expensive. Lilli, whose conviviality, happy-go-lucky behaviour in Huntsville had made her the object of attention at all the parties and gatherings they organised instantly metamorphosed into a calm, taciturn, and extremely cold figure. Perhaps because they were not recognised. But mostly because she wanted Max to live up to the 'standards' of the people of Oaksville to the extent that she bought him his t-shirts. Then there were the rumours. Rumours of Lilli sleeping with other couples in a sort of kinky kind of sex: threesome, foursome. The news was everywhere. Max had married young, had given up college and married Lilli and after over two decades and a son later, he wasn't sure if he was willing to go on with the marriage. If Lilli was still loved him. They had sex and had it even more, especially after what he referred to as Accident.

The Accident involved their son, Harley. Harley had a purpose, an aim to go to College. He was a top-of-class student, not exactly popular but had had enough friends. Even at thirteen, Harley had plans of going to Rice when he graduated. At least until the move that dislocated his plans and distorted his view of life. At Oaksville, Harley had become closer to his mother and Max had become a total stranger. So that when Harley involved himself with coke, it was Lilli who took him to see the shrink and Max had been kept totally in the dark. Currently, Max is in the hospital - having recently come out of coma - recovering from head injuries he had sustained in cells where he was held for drug possession. And it these that Max was thinking about. Struggling to comprehend how a simple move from Huntsville to Oaksville had destroyed his once peaceful, happy family. From a 'do-it-yourself' family, he had entertained the idea of walking off, with his son, leaving Lilli behind. Perhaps he could go with the single lady who seems to want him. He liked that lady but had restrained himself from having sex with her.

Philipp Meyer's story is not a happy one. He investigates, somewhat, what lies behind the facade of richness, of walled communities. And he does a good work with this one.

The Entire Northern Side Was Covered With Fire by Rivka Galchen
This story is seemingly opposite to Meyer's. This time round it was the man who played the woman. Written in the first person, Trish came home one day to find his house less of some items. Initially, it seemed as if there had been a burglary until he found a note addressed to him. It was by her husband, the father of the baby she was carrying, Jonathan.

Trish had always thought that their relationship was without any problem. But Jonathan thought differently. So differently that he blogged about how his wife was getting on her nerves at 'I-Can't-Stand-My-Wife-Dot-Blogspot-Dot-Com'. Trish's brother, who had had suspicions about Jonathan had invaded the privacy of his laptop. Initially, he had had the idea that perhaps it was porn that was the problem. But what he found was weirder than porn, and the mere fact that there was no porn was also 'suspicious'. What Trish's brother then told his sister of Jonathan's blog. Later his friend  - David, who had earlier shown some affection for her - also confirmed the existence of the blog and its content. Trish was determined not to read nor listened to the content from his blog. Though Jonathan had withdrawn money from Trish's account - she was a writer whose debut novel had shot her to fame so that she had a little bit of respect and a little bit of money - under the guise of paying his tuition through business school, he really wasn't a student. No one knew him at that said college. In effect Jonathan was a complete fraud. But Trish still had some love for him.

Thus, in The Entire Northern Side was Covered with Fire, we see Trish trying to accommodate to the sudden 'loss' of her husband and her daughter's father. Rivka Galchen also tries to say something, though not loudly, on the culture of 'keeping out of people's business'. Thus, though his friend and brother knew of he existence of the blog, none could tell her - afraid of hurting her feelings, perhaps. However, according to the brother, he thought it was a joke. 

One common theme I found threading through both stories is an examination of our current chosen mode of living, the current living culture. Or could I have been influenced to see the link where there is none because I read one after the other? All the same, The New Yorker's 20 under 40 is a good read.


  1. You can always count on The New Yorker for great short stories. Sounds like a common theme to me...

  2. I really wish I knew what happened to my copy! :-( Boo! Sounds great though!

    1. this was a gift. Won't know of how to get one (those of us who don't use credit cards, lol)

  3. Replies
    1. that's bad. Perhaps it's just a reflection of our world.


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