This story appears to be an excerpt from Bynum’s forthcoming novel, but unlike many New Yorker excerpts, this one is credible as a story, it seems to me. It’s about Ms. Hempel, a young teacher who struggles to make a decision of any kind, and is filled with admiration for another teacher Ms. Duffy, who takes a long international trip and comes back pregnant. It turns out that Ms. Duffy cut her trip short and came home, whereupon she met the man she’s married, but never mind—that too strikes Ms. Hempel as bold. (Ms. Duffy will be living in a yurt with her husband and baby, and the yurt seems to take on symbolic weight: decisiveness, adventure, action.) Ms. Hempel, on the other hand, is going nowhere, and seems to be aroused by anyone who can make a decision. In the end, although her transformation is small, the reader can feel her longing for that kind strength, and there seems to be the slightest possibility that she is on the verge of a breakthrough. It’s not a great story, but it is enjoyable.
July 21, 2008: “Yurt” by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum