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

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Current New Yorker fiction entry has much going for it - but is it really a story?

Current New Yorker fiction piece by Vincent Lodato w/ the intriguing title Herman Melville, Part 1 had better be a selection from a longer work, perhaps a novel, as it illustrates what's right w/ New Yorker fiction selections and what's wrong w/ them, too. First, what's right: It's great to see the New Yorker present new work by a a little-known (I'd never heard of him or read anything by him) American (I presume) author. And this piece, which is entirely about a 20-something woman who's lived for the past year or so out of a backpack as she hitchhikes among various West Coast towns with her boyfriend as partner and protector. Anyone who's traveled in the West has seen dozens, maybe hundreds of the itinerants, and who hasn't felt sorry for them - where have they come from, what are they doing with their lives, are they truly homeless and indigent or are they on some kind of adventure? - wondered about them, and been as well a little afraid of them: Would you pick one up if your car? Would you walk through a park where dozens of the homeless vagabonds have gathered? In this story, the woman's boyfriend has vanished overnight, and she roams in a cold city, probably in Oregon, trying to find him. He's either a total shit who's abandoned her (and, as we learn later, taken her wad of $) or he's in serious trouble himself. Lodato does a great job showing the hardship these folks endure - to what end? - and he creates an intriguing tension between the protagonist and an older woman who offers her shelter and, eventually, a lift out of town. These are people on the margins, generally forgotten or ignored, and Lodata brings the central character to life, without romanticizing her in any way. So what's wrong w/ that? Unfortunately, this fiction piece raises many significant topics - the family she's escaped from, the life of her boyfriend, so different from hers, it's suggested, the annoying nature of those who try to help (telling tales of their youthful travels in Europe, as if the homeless are out on a lark), and the difficulty and dangers of life on the margin, always worried about getting rolled, about the next meal, cup of coffee. shower, etc. - but nothing gets resolved. We don't learn what happened to the boyfriend, where she's headed w/ the seemingly benevolent woman who offers her a ride, what becomes of her or of anyone. A slice of life is something - but if we're not getting a complete story, something with at least a semblance of a beginning-middlle-end, is that what we want to read in the New Yorker? Or is the magazine at times just a shill for aggressive publishes, pushing new novels?

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