So I checked out the Summer Fiction issue of the New Yorker from the library, which will hopefully lead to more New Yorker stories being read. They’ve had a pretty decent lineup in the past few weeks (go here to check it out) but I haven’t found the time to stay caught up. I figured I’d start a new blog feature where I review each New Yorker story as I read it; this gives me regular material for the blog, lets me practice a more thoughtful style of writing and should inspire me to read more stories.
Last week’s story was “Shauntrelle” by Antonya Nelson. I’ve read a few other Nelson stories in the New Yorker, and they’re generally better than average. This one is about a middle-aged woman named Constance, who’s recently left her husband for a younger man. Unfortunately, the new man has turned out to be a total deadbeat and not worth the effort. In the aftermath of severing ties with her husband and estranging her daughter, she moves into a corporate housing complex and rooms with a rich, eccentric older woman who’s constantly getting plastic surgery and talks a mean blue streak.
Not a whole lot happens plot-wise, but Nelson renders some rich moments: her descriptions of corporate housing are spot on, reminding me of our corporate apartments in Tucson. She even includes the outdated answering machine messages and mystery callers asking for former occupants, just like the ghostly messages Casey and Ming got on their room phone. The story’s also got some surprisingly modern touches: Fanny Mann (the older woman) is from New Orleans and a refugee of Hurricane Katrina, and she’s constantly hunting around for a wi-fi signal with her laptop or screening calls on her cell.
Constance’s situation is explained adequately, but I wasn’t entirely convinced that this woman would call off her marriage before diagnosing her new man wasn’t going to hold up his end of the deal. Fanny’s best friend has contracted cancer and is on her deathbed in the hospital, but this plot point seems a little underutilized. The real pleasure in the story comes from Fanny’s dialogue and behavior – she’s described as being in her 60’s, yet she’s always there to crack a joke or goose the moment with a dirty thought. That risqué, over-sexualized grandmother character gets me every time.