[One of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40]
Originally published in The New Yorker, June 14 & 21, 2010. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 100.
It's hard to call out individual lines from this brilliant Jonathan Safran Foer story, because--like much of his work--it's not a traditional narrative. Instead, it's a story told in list form, one that starts out very structured, but slowly falls apart, like the relationship at the heart of this simple "He says-she says" dynamic. So we go from paragraphs of "I was not x" and "You were not x" to a paragraph that mixes the two, and then to a paragraph with what "We" did--that's a courtship and a half right there. Then it's a less even mix between the I and You again, and then it's into a regretful territory: all couldn'ts and wouldn'ts and should haves. The story itself builds slowly, nestled carefully within the seemingly innocuous facts, and here are some of the highlights:
- "We went to Tobey Pond every year until we didn't."
- "We braved my parents' for Thanksgiving and yours for the rest, and how did it happen that we were suddenly at my father's side while he drowned in his own body?"
- "They encouraged us to buy insurance. We had sex to have orgasms. You loved reupholstering. I went to the gym to go somewhere, and looked in the mirror when there was something I was hoping not to see."
- "We were always moving furniture and never making eye contact. I hated my inability to visit a foreign city without fantasizing about real estate. And then your father was dead."
There's so much there, not least the passage of time, which reflects the great title (and start of the second "part" of this very short story), "And here we aren't, so quickly; I'm not twenty-six, and you're not sixty." The ages may be arbitrary, to a degree, but the sound of them isn't--Foer's an author with a lot at stake, as in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (which really is a great title for a 9/11 book, isn't it?), but one who stresses the perfection of each line, too, especially when broken syntax is involved. Line for line, this story is filled with terse beauty and extreme sorrow, all missed opportunities and lost love.