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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Smart story, The Burglary, in current New Yorker that manages four parallel narraatives

Unusual and provocative short story in current New Yorker, The Burglar, by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum - in which she tells four parallel narratives in a series of isolated paragraphs: a young mom returns home from workout and finds a burglar in her house (at first, as she hears someone upstairs, she thinks it's her husband home unexpectedly but when she calls out and the burglar responds: It's the cleaning service, she believes that - rather stupidly - as she was in fact waiting for exterminators to come for an estimate), the burglar - we see it from his perspective, as he cases out the house, overcomes the dog, thinks to call out "cleaning service" and is shocked she believes him; the husband, who is a writer on a TV series, his first network job, and he's with a team putting together an absurd story line about an ex-con (black) who gets out after 50 years in Attica and goes on a rampage killing white women - the writing team obviously has no idea what it's doing and keeps talking about being "edgy" and the husband feels increasingly alienated and ashamed of where this project is going but recognizes this is his one big chance and they need the $; and the 4th narrative is seemingly the narrative the husband is writing, a black man casing a neighborhood and approaching a house - his/her house - as a burglary is in progress. Whew. But because of Bynum's clear writing, thoughtful pacing, and careful plot design the story is easy to follow and it's absorbing: superficially we are engaged with the actual burglary, what will happen, who will be hurt, will he be caught; and on a deeper level it pushes us to wonder about why we're "entertained" by this story, what are our presuppositions and prejudices about who would commit a break-in and why; and on another level it pushes us to wonder about the entertainment industry and its (our) relentless appetite for crime and mayhem and a "twist" - and maybe literary fiction, seeking to "make it new," has a bit of that as well.

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