Thursday, May 15, 2008

The New Yorker: "East Wind" by Julian Barnes

I’ve never been a fan of Julian Barnes and this piece isn’t going to do anything to change that.

The story involves Vernon, a divorced father of two who is a real estate agent on the English east coast. He’s mostly just plodding along and doesn’t care about anything. In fact, he says repeatedly that he “doesn’t mind one way or the other.” He’s not good at flirting, to his credit, but he gives it a go anyway, and eventually beds Andrea, a woman he thinks is Polish. It’s hard to see what he sees in her. She’s brusque and not particularly attractive: “broad face, streaked hair, chunky body.” Although he says he’s growing attached to her, maybe falling in love, his actions don’t support that and it is in fact hard to believe. The sex doesn’t even seem that great and she’s not forthcoming about her past. He becomes curious when she reveals she isn’t worried about getting pregnant and instead of asking her what’s going on, he snoops on her, sneaks into her apartment, even Googles her using the bits of information he’s gleaned. And then he lets slip that he knows something about her that she hasn’t told him. Whereupon she disappears. And he doesn’t seem to mind one way or the other. So, we have a character who doesn’t care and generally doesn’t feel, who hooks up with another character who doesn’t seem to feel, and because he’s kind of a jerk their relationship doesn’t last. This isn’t the kind of story that gets me excited. In fact, I’d have to say that I don’t mind one way or the other.

May 19, 2008: "East Wind" by Julian Barnes


Anonymous said...

My take on it was slightly different...although I didn't enjoy the story that much, I think both the main characters were traumatized by their pasts and did not want to feel anything and that was the whole point of the story. Not that they didn't feel, but that they felt so much that they could not afford to show they felt, if that makes sense.

Paul Epstein said...

I also didn't like it but the reason for my not liking it is different and perhaps instructive. I felt the story was inexpertly crafted and went into a long digression about the East German doping scandal without blending it into the story. The writer basically interrupted the story and said "By the way, you need some background here. Let me tell you some crucial facts now about East German sporting history. Couldn't quite fit these facts into the story but don't worry about that, ok?" Just doesn't wash.

I do very much admire Barnes as a short-story writer and essayist, though.

I also thought it was refreshing that the female protagonist was not beautiful. I'm all for more realistic depictions of the human body.

Clifford Garstang said...

Paul, you've made some very good points here. I agree that the little essay on the East German doping stopped the story. I also agree with you that Andrea's lack of physical beauty is a nice touch (few of my own characters are beautiful because I can't relate), but then she didn't have much else in the way of charms either, which is why I didn't get the attraction.

Severin Køhler said...

To me, it seams as if you're ignorance is getting the better of you. You have not looked at the bigger picture. You have not thought about the message of this text, or it's perception of modern society. The postmodern family form is portrayed in comparison to the nuclear family. Next time you read a text, you might want to focus on the message of the text, rather that if you think it is boring, when you read it the first time.

Anonymous said...

You're wrong motherf*cker!

Anonymous said...

I don't think that you understand either the relationship between Vernon and Andrea or the idea of the story. Saying that it is hard to see what Vernon likes about Andrea, shows a lack of understanding of the characters. These are to broken persons, who needs someone to be able to rely on, who seems to have the same view and expectations to their relationship. It isn't necessarily about their relationship, and "love" towards each other, as it is for you to be able to understand characters even when their story and view on life isn't a perfect romance.