137. SHORT STORY MONDAY: The Kid by Salvatore Scibona

Salvatore's The Kid is the seventh of the eight stories The New Yorker featured when it provided its best twenty authors under forty years dubbed '20 under 40'. Reviews of the other stories could be read here.

A boy of about five years has suddenly appeared at the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel Airport, and weeping. Speaking Latvian, the boy is incomprehensible and talks intermittently. Travellers waiting to embark have gathered around him trying to coax him in different languages if he will respond but all prove to no avail. But by some means the boy knows that he is in Germany and that since his mother had warned him that 
A German may appear to be a good fellow, but better to hang him
Janis, the boy, continued crying.

The next section of the story told of Elroy Heflin who had been posted to Latvia and was having an affair with a Latvian lady, Evija. Elroy wanted to marry Evija after she became pregnant but she said she wasn't ready and Elroy was deployed to Afghanistan. Thereafter Elroy began to send mother and son money. Then Elroy received an email to come for Janis as Evija was moving to Spain and she wouldn't go with Janis so Elroy must come for the boy within the month. The narrative then switched between Janis's present state and his father's confusion and frustrations.

Single and without any experience on how to bring his son up, Elroy's journey was filled with personal torture as he looks for a book on parenting to help him adjust; shouting at the boy in that kind of military tone and training. Whereas Elroy's frustration is easy to sympathise with, his final decision to leave a five-year old boy who speaks little English and no German and who seems a bit timid in a strange country is something that is difficult to understand and to forgive. Initially, he thought Janis might not be his child because Evija was dating other men in addition to him especially when he left her to Afghanistan. In fact, there was a Russian theatre fag whom she was dating. But Elroy accepted that the boy resembles him
"... He looks like me, though. A fucking miracle, right? You expect them to follow you in the face, but then you don't think they do, until they get to a certain age, and you see it."
But Heflin would go on to debate with himself, trying to psychologically adjust himself to include Janis, looking for a place to think, to see if things would work according to plan. However, finally he left Janis at the airport as he enplaned to Heathrow. Was it because of his military background? Or was it because he was also deserted by his mother and was raised by an ex-stepfather? Or was it simply because he couldn't raise the boy? But why leave him at an isolated place? I had to reread certain parts of the story because I thought I had missed some lines or had not understood certain passages properly. I really wanted to know why Heflin would do that. 

And when Heflin, having now become a Major, was on his fourth deployment in Afghanistan he received a letter from Evija wishing to see her son and hoping they will be together gain, the three of them.

If you have read this story, kindly share your thoughts on this with me.


  1. I like Scibona I read his first novel last year a wonderful mix ,all the best stu

    1. Thanks Stu. I hope I get to read his full novel.

  2. Good review, Nana. However, I can't seem to understand both Elroy and Evija. Both are selfish if you ask me, with Evija taking the medal. What sort of woman would abandon her son and then try to wiggle her way back to the man and son whom she thinks is now grown and probably doing well. So opportunistic. Poor Janis.

    1. Selfishness is the word. But the Elroy was also super. To leave your five-year old boy at an airport? that requires a different kind of heart.

  3. Yeah, I read this story yesterday. I really had to re-read some parts as well. Scibona is definitely not trying to give us too much to work with. I think it definitely had to do with all of the things you mentioned, Nana. It was a mixture of things-- 1.) Not ready to be a father 2.) His mother left him. But also I get this feeling it also had to do with his wish at having a complete family.

    He came to Latvia hoping to get Evija back. It said he would say whatever he was feeling, but he didn't want to make a scene "on stage." I think the stage signifies movies or television maybe, like the ideal way things should happen. But when Evija didn't show up Elroy knew it wasn't going to be the right way, the way he was never able to experience (not having his real father, and his real mother leaving). I think he was trying to salvage the relationship with his son and make it work, but when the pressure for him to get everything right became overwhelming, he couldn't deal with it. Then those horrors from the past come to the front and he just decided to leave Janis.

    Besides, towards the end of the story he's laying on the couch of his step-fathers house and he doesn't have money. He relies on his step-father to get him food, and lend him money as well, which shows his immaturity and shows he is not ready to be an adult yet.

    This makes the ending make sense to me. When he gets that letter from Evija it shows him that he could've had what he wanted. I would imagine he felt terrible after reading the letter, knowing he left poor Janis in Germany, and that they would/could never be a real family.

    I could be wrong about this. I would love to hear your thoughts on my take on things. I loved your review! Thanks, Nana!

    1. Thanks Rodriguez for your response. I share your opinion. It is Heflin's immaturity and his unwillingness to sacrifice. All perhaps it was his poor financial status or the effects of not having any proper family to call his own.

      Again, the immaturity is on both sides: mother and father. How could Evija consider Janis less important than the Spain she is travelling to? And what do they expect? that life will wait for them to mature? Now after coming home from Spain she wants all three of them to be together. And after he had dropped Janis off at the airport in Germany, I believe he would also want to get him back, especially as Evija wanted them to be back.

      Another important thing is: don't you think Elroy's stepfather would have done a better job raising Janis? And why didn't Elroy think of that? Or perhaps he doesn't want to increase the father's burden?

      Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

    2. Thanks for replying so quickly! I totally agree. I also think that is a great question about Elroy's stepfather. I would say that he wouldn't have done much better given that he is also military trained, and the way Elroy treated Janis in the bathroom stall is the way I'd expect his Elroy's stepfather to act. The whole "stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about" bit is what I mean. They all seem unfit to parent, but it's incredibly sad for Janis to grow up into such a world. His mother and father are unfit, and so he sort of disappears as a result--growing up in a foreign country.

      Thanks again for the reply, Nana. And I'll be sure to comment on your other reviews as I continue reading through New Yorker's 20 under 40 book.

    3. Thanks Rodriguez, I enjoy reading comments and sharing opinions. It helps add onto your understanding of the story and keeps it longer in your head. I will be looking forward to your other comments.


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