This week on my Twitter feed I read the story ‘So you’re just what, gone?’ by Justin Taylor. You can read the story here. Now I will be honest, on the first two reads I did not get the story. That’s not to say I did not understand the story. I did, except for the ending. I have read other stories online on The New Yorker that made me go like, “Wow! That was something.” But this story did not inspire any such emotion in me on the first reads.
Photograph for The New Yorker by Brian Finke
I spoke over the phone with my professor, Mr. Shreedeep Gangopadhyay (who, by the way, is an occasional author and has shared two of his shorts in his guest post on this blog), about the story at length, going to the extent of narrating the whole story to him without summarizing (and may I mention, caring not two hoots about my grand viva of the final semester of engineering, which was due on Tuesday) and asked him the same question that I put on Twitter: “So, what’s the hitch?” Our discussion ended on a note that there might be something which we were missing, which the editors definitely saw. Perhaps Mr. Gangopadhyay would have a different opinion if he’d read the story himself.
Then I read the author’s interview about this story on The NY. That gave me an insight into the story which the story itself didn’t give.
The author dissected the protagonist, Charity’s character, who is this teenage girl who boards a plane to her Grandma’s place with her mother. They get different seats on the plane, and Charity sits beside a man, who introduces himself as Mark and makes indecent advances towards her.
This isn’t exactly the entire theme of the story, but is an important part. Now, from the author’s interview, I got to know certain patterns about Charity that wasn’t obvious to me from reading the story. For example, Charity is shown using Instagram in this story and the author says this is because:
…she’s a highly visual person. She’s always alert to color and to light and is interested in composition, in image-making. This is why she prefers Instagram to, say, Twitter or Spring.me.
I hadn’t given her using Instagram much thought until I read the author’s views. I only imagined it to be a random platform she happens to use, just like I use Facebook or this blog. But the fact that the author put some thought before selecting the platform she uses was intricate to me. It made me truly appreciate the thoughts that go into character-building in stories/novels. In fact that explained the ending to me partly as well, the scene where Charity takes a picture of fish guts and a picture of the inside of her mouth and Instragrams it. I made a mental note to plan such things for my characters too (which would be something new for me, for I am more of an organic writer, writing stuff as they come to me).
Another thing which Justin pointed out, that “her thinking is far more nuanced and articulate than what comes out of her mouth,” became apparent to me as I read the story once again. For example when her grandma says some nasty things, she only cries out and calls for her mother. She knows perhaps she should complain about Mark Perv’s (that how she saves Mark’s name on her phone) advances, but she is undecided about it because complaining about him would also mean explaining herself to everyone else, an idea which she isn’t particularly fond of.
I found I enjoyed the story better after I had read the author’s views, but I guess I would have preferred if I saw the nuances myself (then again, I’ll admit I am not much of a trained reader, and am only finding my way through). If not anything else, this story will stand out to me as the piece where the author really does speak successfully through a teenager’s voice. He does the point of view pretty well, for it’s indeed quite difficult to see this world through someone else’s eyes, especially if that someone else happens to be a sixteen year old.
Good review, and I’m glad you pointed out what didn’t work for you. Did the story take hold of your emotions?
You said at the end you were left without that special feeling, like it wasn’t much of anything. I’m trying to figure out exactly what it was that it was lacking, so I’m going back and reading it. Usually, it’s not a good thing if the author needs to explain themself to the reader, so I’m going to go read this story.
What would you have added to make it more memorable, or more powerful?
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Thank you for your comments. Well, I found it a bit difficult to relate the ending to Charity’s state of mind. Towards the end, she is rattled by Mark’s behaviour, her grandma’s rude remarks. I am sure the picture with the fish guts was supposed to hint at her disarrayed state of mind, but I fail to see the connection. I might have preferred a more symbolic end that’s easier to relate to. I don’t know if it’s just me being dumb. That was the point of reviewing this story. It ended with a few questions for me, and I wanted to know what others think about it. Do let me know your views after you finish reading it.
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OK, I finished it. To me, it was well written, but much too forced.
I’ll start with the end – the fish guts thing, you’re totally right there. It felt so empty, so unexpected and kind of pointless to end with that image. What was any of that supposed to mean? Does she think like a fish? Is she caught like a fish? Is she like a piece of meat, like a fish? There was no strong implication for me, no burning questions.
What I remembered most from the story was Mark’s attitudes, but it wasn’t anything *new* to me. Charity’s point of view was interesting, but it felt contrived, forced. All of the ‘whatevers’ and ‘likes’ were very much early 2000’s, but I don’t see that much anymore, and especially not at the same time as Youtube and Instagram and all of the other ‘new, hip websites the kids are using these days’. It was almost like product placement, or that the author was trying to grab as many search engine terms as possible.
I think what I liked the most was Charity’s attitude (I’m gonna do whatever I’m gonna do). She DID do whatever she wanted to do, but at the same time, she was lying to herself about what she wanted to do. It was nice to see her learning, see her curiosity, although I didn’t feel like I knew the character very well.
I thought it was interesting that the author said they were trying to write an individual, and not a type, when this character seemed to be so much the stereotypical teenager.
If I’m honest, I would have read more of this story, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. I don’t understand why it ended where it did, it seemed like a movie that stops a half hour before the end. But The New Yorker loves this kind of writing, so I can’t say I’ve got the right opinion on any of this.
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Well, you are probably correct about The New Yorker. As for the ‘whatevers’ and ‘likes’, they kind of helped me with a teenager’s POV. But then, I don’t belong from native English-speaking community, so I wouldn’t know the current trends in teenage vocabulary in America. Maybe they are early 2000’s. As the author says, he doesn’t know much of teenage mind, except for what he remembers or ‘misremembers’ from his own teenage years.
Thanks so much for the detailed thoughts! It does help me de-clutter my mind.
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