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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ha motze levetz me'en ha aaretz?: Making sense of Breadman

Have to say I did not completely "get" J. Robert Lennon's story in current New Yorker, Breadman. Yes, it's easy enough to follow the story line: narrator sent on errand by wife who's home sick w/ a cold to purchase bread, which they (she) gets from a sort of new-age, gurulike baker with a pop-up retail outlet in a down-at-heels section of the (unnamed) city - as narrator keeps reminding of; Breadman has a cultlike following; business open for just a few hours a week in space rented out in some "tchatchke store" (surprised to see this Yiddish term in this story?) - where people line up, sign in, pay in cash, and when the product's sold out the day is done. Narrator is a real complainer, critical of the Breadman, his system, his following, his disciples, even of wife for sending him out on this mission. Not much happens till the end when narrator feels cheated out of his purchase by a line-jumper who, it turns out, is the Breadman's own guru; a fight ensues, and, as we jump forward to the present, we learn that the events of the day led to the end of narrator's marriage as he learns wife had been having an affair with one of the baking assistants, and narrator is now off somewhere else, some other city, still unnamed, and not sure what his ex is up to now. So where are we? I think where we are is a story about an unreliable narrator - who reveals more about himself than he thinks he's revealing; he lets slip almost as an aside that he's on anti-depressants and we suspect has much more serious psychological problems than that; and in fact as he tries to punch the Breadman in dispute over focaccia (sp?) loaf we realize, yes, this guy has pretty serious issues with anger management and impulse control - even though the narrator himself recounts the event as if he were justified in his violent behavior - perhaps much as he might describe this event, some years after the fact, to a therapist. What I can't get at is Lennon's attitude, if he even has one, toward the Breadman and his pretensions and his crew: Does he share the narrator's mocking contempt, or is the contempt one of the narrator's symptoms, or does that even matter? Story is a portrait of a many with a troubled mind, told in his own words - but there are hints that it's also about society: gentrification, narcissism, even cultism - or maybe just about food trucks and pop-ups in SF or some similarly food-obsessed contemporary city.

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