Sunday, July 18, 2010

Short-a-Day: Salvatore Scibona's "The Kid"

[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): 58.

I admire Scibona's clear writing, and I love the introduction to his story, in which a weeping boy is found, but goes unclaimed, at the Hamburg-Fuhlsbuttel Airport. "The intercom repeated in English, 'Terminal 1, a child in lost-and-found,' while the boy hustled along, incongruous: a body automatized with purpose, as though if you got close enough you would hear him ticking. And yet, under his crooked hat, his face was anarchic with spasmodic blinks and sniffles."

But I just didn't get where it went from there. That is, yes: I understand that the father, Elroy Helflin, is an army man--a bit of a drifter--with problems of his own, especially when his girlfriend Evija declines to marry him, remaining in Riga with their newborn Janis, where he only sees them once every year or so. But the "something" that makes Elroy abruptly decide to "inherit" his son from Evija, who is off to Spain, and then just as abruptly to abandon him--leaving all his cash with him--doesn't come through for me.

And the revelation of Elroy's own father issues doesn't actually clarify things either. "Sergeant Slocum wasn't really Elroy's father. He was Elroy's stepfather. His ex-stepfather, properly speaking. He had let Elroy stay with him after the second divorce and sent him to St. Xavier's to finish high school. Then the old man had retired up here. Ma had run off. Who knew where." For some, perhaps, this is enough. But the story itself is what ends up feeling abandoned, and for all the lovely flashback details, I don't get a strong enough sense of these characters.

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