Friday, October 7, 2016
Distrubing story in New Yorker that doesn't make sense - unless the central character is herself disturbed
Kevin Barry's strange story in the current New Yorker, Deer Stalker (?), is disturbing in many ways, not all to the good. He writes in a lush, overly descriptive style - lots of passages about the grass slowly waving in the soft wind, about the beautiful countryside - takes a while before we figure out that it's in Ireland - yet the central character, a 17-year-old girl at home from boarding school for the summer, sees the landscape as no more than a place in which, as she quite crudely puts, can fuck. She's a few days away from leaving for her school and she has it in her mind to lose her virginity and she sets sights on a lonely and strange young man - about twice her age as it turns out - whom she sees creeping about alongside the river. She plays up to him, almost attacks him sexually, and they engage in two abrupt and not at all sensuous or caring or romantic sexual encounters. He seems like a very disturbed fellow - living in dire poverty and stealing wood from the "forestry" to keep warm through the winter (the previous winter he burned half his books for warmth, he says - sure to bring sympathy from the literary types who'd be reading this story). Long and short, she goes back to school, her father learns of the tryst - never quite sure how that happens - and apparently the men of the village drove out this impoverished, drug-addled young man and the young girl feels - slightly - bad about that. Obviously it's Barry's intent to break with convention - it's the young woman, not the man, who's the predator - in fact he has the good sense to know it can only lead to trouble, but he can't resist. But what about this young woman? Aside from being cruel and selfish, what makes her tick? We know very little about her; she's opaque. She has no mother, and her brother is away studying medicine - but seriously no normal young woman behaves the way she does in this story. So she must be lonely, troubled, anti-social, friendless something has really disturbed her mind if that's how she thinks about sex - picking up a stranger who's obviously a disturbed guy and just more or less rutting: Is she seeking to provoke her father? Her community? Does she hate men? Hate herself? All that is possible but none of that is developed so I'm left here throwing up my hands and saying that, given the info I have about this young woman, I just can't accept the facts on the ground. The story makes no logical sense and it does probe deeply enough in her character to make illogical sense.