September 8, 2001 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Finally! The New Yorker publishes a short story that's actually worth reading. Tim O'Brien riffs on weight loss and a certain reclusive genius--highly entertaining stuff just right for a sluggish Saturday afternoon. For extra credit: why is so much literary fiction so mind-numbingly dull these days?
posted by muckster (12 comments total)
While I agree that short fiction in this country has seen better days, let's not jump on The New Yorker for it. It's given us enough over the years to deserve a little slack. It's not like there are thousands of innovative writers out there that The New Yorker is just ignoring.
posted by jpoulos at 10:38 AM on September 8, 2001

this- much slack. Literature (SHORT FICTION) has blown since...early nineties. Last good thing i read by a young author was yoshimoto. Vollmann seemed promising. Since Hall published his death to the death of Poetry (yes different genre, but same inclination) Literature has been on its knees trying to define itself through the work. Which i think slows the progress that literature should make. Perhaps its stalled like before the turn of the century. though stalled is inaccurate-in change- Dressler, pound, the transforming of french symbolism. and gits like me talking out the ass.
posted by clavdivs at 10:54 AM on September 8, 2001

i like the dastardly protagonist -- the author! tim o'brien exposing the american dream for well nigh a few decades. the things they carried was really great, btw.

apropos there was this article in the new york times magazine about this guy's mission to revitalize the novel and save literature or something :)
posted by kliuless at 11:29 AM on September 8, 2001

I just finished reading the short story. Very good. Lately, I've been reading classics. They are so much better than what has been put out recently. Ayn Rand, L. Montgomery, etc...Very good writers.
posted by Sonserae at 12:27 PM on September 8, 2001

Very good short story, but I think it would have been funnier and more plausible if Marv coincidentally had a striking resemblance to the reclusive author. And heck, why not use a real reclusive author, Thomas Pynchon, than some fake placeholder name.

In the "truth stranger than fiction" category, here's a guy who passed himself off as Dodi Al-Fayed for several years (before the Princess Diana thing) and even fooled Duran Duran for a while. (story)
posted by bobo123 at 2:01 PM on September 8, 2001

Perhaps our minds tend towards numbness. I enjoyed the story, and have enjoyed Tim O'Brien's writing in the past, but I failed to rise out of my Saturday afternoon fog.

It seems that there is an abundance of observant, interesting, technically adventurous writers at work, more than most of us care to read. If we approach there stories open and charitable energy, then we we're going to find we're rewarded. Not every time, or not even most times, because different writers speak to different readers, but enough times to keep reading.

Earlier this year I read a New Yorker story about a teacher invited to dinner at the home of a student who fascinates him that I thought was just great. (Unfortunately the New Yorker doesn't seem to archive these stories.) It was my only acquaintance with this writer but I'm looking forward to reading more of his stories. And their fiction issue this summer introduced new writers. I loved the story about the writer travelling back to his ancestral home in Russia (a story narrated by his translator).

Writing no longer has the cultural force to pull us in. Who will we talk to about a story? Dinner table conversation has been usurped by movies and television. Discussions about Planet of the Apes, Charlie's Angels, Survivor, Big Brother draw lots of response here. Everyone has some familiarity with the subject.

Anyway, this man seems to want to find an answer why modern fiction is so "mind-numbing". Or at least assault the fan base of a few respected writers.
posted by TimTypeZed at 2:29 PM on September 8, 2001

Thought it was a great story ... but, of course, I expected nothing less from Tim O'Brien. He does the angst of the middle-aged man better than anyone writing now.

The New Yorker, on balance, uses its vast power over contemporary poetry and literary short fiction in a very responsible way. In the past 10 years or so, their editors have "certified" for otherwise risk-averse publishing houses a number of very important voices, including my favorite (relatively) recently emerged authors, Thom Jones.
posted by MattD at 2:48 PM on September 8, 2001

I liked this a lot.

The masochism of the protagonist was part delicious, part embarassing - in the end.

Thank you for the link.
posted by jackiemcghee at 2:56 PM on September 8, 2001

Literary fiction has always been, in the main, dull. It's a hard genre to pull off. Every era has its full completment of "literary" authors, who are hailed in their time as the heirs of Homer, Hugo and Balzac. But they do not last. For instance, when is the last time anyone read George Meredith? Yet in his time (late 19th Century), the smart money would have bet on Meredith to be da man to survive his generation - not Hardy, or Trollope, or James. The allure of Tim O'Brien eludes me. Compare O'Brien's mushy middlebrow prose with the dancing, humorous, brilliant larky lovlieness of Michael Chabon ("Wonder Boys"). Or the scary intensity of Philip Roth.
posted by Faze at 3:45 PM on September 8, 2001

posted by tp3wen at 1:51 AM on September 9, 2001

yep, lits dead(thank god)
posted by clavdivs at 8:26 AM on September 9, 2001

Recent good short stories: Jay McInerary, Model Behavior.

Recent good lit. fiction: David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest and (a short story) that take of his on LBJ/homoeroticism that was in, where, McSweeneys maybe, last year?

Neither are "new" names, but still...
posted by gdog at 8:32 PM on September 9, 2001

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