I’m not sure if I liked this story because of all the great specific references to Chicago or because the story and the protagonist appealed to me, but for whatever reason “Great Experiment” engaged me as many New Yorker stories do not. Having said that, the ending seemed too predictable and that outweighs the rest, I’m afraid.
Kendall, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (with that bit of information, which many readers will not appreciate, a great deal is said about this character) who hasn’t made it as a poet. He has had some teaching jobs and currently works for a small publisher owned by Jimmy Dimon, an old pornographer who loves great books. (Dimon is a wonderful character and I wish he were more present in the story; the small glimpses we get are what keeps it alive.) But Kendall has a wife and two kids and money is always tight. He envies what Jimmy has, and all the other rich Chicagoans in their Gold Coast high-rises. (The story has some great imagery concerning Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline that is worth studying – it’s beautifully done.) His current assignment is to put together a distillation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” and that assignment pulls the plot forward. But the suspense in the story comes from a scheme hatched by Piasecki the accountant, in which Kendall agrees to participate, to defraud Jimmy of a couple of million bucks that he won’t even miss. Except, as the reader suspects, Jimmy is smarter than either Kendall or Piasecki give him credit for. And so the inevitable happens, and it all seems to have been foretold by Tocqueville . . .
For me, this one is better than average. Good, but not great.
March 31, 2008: "Great Experiment" by Jeffrey Eugenides