The story is enough.

The story is enough.

Monday, January 4, 2016

"The Beach Boy" by Ottessa Moshfegh

This story can be found in the January 4, 2016 issue of The New Yorker.

This review can also be read on The Mookse and the Gripes.

First Line:  "The friends met for dinner, as they did the second Sunday of every month, at a small Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side."

Last Line: "It was clear to him and to the other beach boys watching from their perch in the dunes that the old man wasn’t carrying any money."

A couple, steeped in privilege and an elite lifestyle, meet with an untimely death and grief upon returning home from a vacation on an island.  The story is meant to explore a man's experience with a controlling marriage, too-tightly fit career, and the lack of choice and freedom he feels inside his life of privilege and ease.

There were great images in this piece - they juxtaposed each other in a subtle, and quietly jarring way.  Yet they felt forced.  This piece could have been an organic exploration of relationships, emotions, desires.  Instead of allowing the reader to watch the story unfold in a natural and life-like flow, Ms. Moshfegh tells us what to see and think, and when, in an overt mannerThe characters are well-developed, but they are pushed from scene to scene, moment to moment, by the author.  I wonder what John would have thought about the last picture on the roll if particular thoughts were not insisted upon him...

I tried to find the criteria used to select fiction for the magazine.  I found this response from Deborah Treisman at The New Yorker: "We have no concept of 'trademark' New Yorker fiction. It is next to impossible to define one limited category that would contain work by Haruki Murakami and Alice Munro, Edwidge Danticat and Jonathan Franzen, Jhumpa Lahiri and David Foster Wallace, William Trevor and Aleksandar Hemon, John Updike and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gabriel GarcĂ­a Marquez and Antonya Nelson, to name just a few of the very different writers we’ve published in recent years. What is important for us is that a story succeed on its own terms. If the writer’s goal is to be linguistically inventive, he or she needs to pull that off and do something fresh; if his or her goal is to have an emotional impact, that must come through in some powerful way. The styles and approaches can be as different as is humanly possible, as long as they’re effective."

"The Beach Boy" feels like it is on its way to "suceed[ing] on its own terms", but is not quite there yet.  Such dramatic and sudden shifts in personality do take place in times of grief, in times of great upheaval, and sudden freedom.  This transformation is covered in a brief paragraph, but it reads like it's trying to create effect - make readers see the change - rather than allowing them to discover it on their own, notice it by connecting to their own life experiences while reading.  The narrator feels as controlling as Marcia, without being as light-handed and airy.

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