This story can be found in the June 22, 2015 issue of The New Yorker magazine.
First Line: "Carl Hirsch didn't do holiday parties."
Last Line: "Maybe, in whatever time he had left, Carl would work as hard as he could to keep the verdict on that question, along with every other question that pressed in, as far way from his family as humanly possible."
Wow! I truly enjoyed this story. It was my first reading of anything by Ben Marcus, and he did not disappoint.
The story starts out with a man, who works for a Research and Development firm called Mayflower Systems, entering a holiday office party. He is uncomfortable – socially, physically. His face is disfigured. He is not only an employee but also a research subject for his company.
Mayflower is trying to capitalize on the current state of the world. They tried to track emotions and then pair people up with those that had similar feelings. When unsuccessful, the firm decided to remove the need for the process of eating. They tried a complete nutrition liquid (that did not work) and now, they were hitting Carl with UV rays to cover all of his nutritional needs.
It is a sad tale – a parable of sorts. It voices a concern about our time. Are we removing the important, vital functions of our lives which in turn help us to access our intuition, our ability to choose, sensual pleasures, and sociality?
Small glimpses of hope are seen in his mother’s “revisionist birth narrative” despite the doom and gloom Carl reads into it. We meet those hopeful emotions at the end when he, himself, has married and has his own son.
The idea is creative and the writing is fantastic. It is clear, clean and crisp. Ben Marcus is poetic in this story, juggling clever phrases to bring us inside Carl’s head. Those pieces of masterful language give stunning visual imagery, for we are to know all about this man and his face to truly understand his pain… without a photograph. There is true storyteller craft at work here.
I loved these lines:
· “…Carl instead collected drive-by hugs. He was heavily touched, right on the body, by people he’d hardly even met.”
· “Carl and his team were pressured to pee-shame the status quo.”
· “Rough on the eyes, tough to the touch.”
· “The winter failed, and along came April, one of the twelve punishments.”
I look forward to more by Ben Marcus.
photo from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/38/Ben_marcus_3041200.JPG/220px-Ben_marcus_3041200.JPG