Tuesday, January 3, 2017
A unique narrative voice and central character in current NYer story
I'm impressed by the story in the current New Yorker, Most Die Young, by a French author, Camille Bordas - completely unknown to me and I suspect to most American readers. As with a NYer story a few weeks ago by an Argentine writer, it's great to see this august magazine using its clout and resources to fine new world talent and introduce them to a wider English-speaking readership (for years, the NYer fiction editors seemed affixed to big-name authors and to running excerpts from their forthcoming books, kind of a free service to the Random House, FSG. Penguin et al. marketing teams). This story strikes a fine balance between the personal and the political, between the mundane and the catastrophic, all with a narrative tone of wit and acute observation. The narrator is a young woman who suffers from a great deal of anxiety, most of it unfounded; a journalist, she is writing a magazine piece about a (fictional) Southeast Asian tribe that believes fear and wariness to be virtues and has no recognition of bravery - confronted w/ any threat or danger, they give in (thus "most die young"). Over the course of a few days, we follow this narrator as she meets w/ 2 professors, has long conversations with her sister, a veterinarian (introduced to us by saying, sorry I'm late, my last dog just died. Only later do we learn her occupation, explaining retroactively her calm demeanor). The story for a while seems like it may be just a wry and witty take on contemporary urban life, like many other stories, but then we learn there has been a terrorist attack at the nearby university (setting is Left Bank Paris), and everything is reversed: her crippling fears now seem logical, even necessary. All told, Bordas establishes a unique narrative voice and central character: ditzy but oddly observant, wise but suffering.