Saturday, September 27, 2008

The New Yorker: "Three" by Andrea Lee

The pleasure in reading this story is in the language, which is often beautiful. That’s pleasure enough for me, but as a story I found this lacking. The opening tells the reader what to expect: “This is an account of three people who died.” That’s exactly what it is. The narrator, who is a link among the three, comes to a certain new realization at the end of the story, but otherwise nothing happens. As a result, despite the language, I find the story flat.

The narrator is a writer who marries into an Italian family presided over by Ombretta. The old woman is the first of the three to die and Lee’s story’s first section is a lovely portrait of the narrator’s mother-in-law, how she wasn’t a tyrant, how she lived a full life. The second section tell us about Francescon, a talented painter of murals, who dies of cancer. The third is about the “philandering handyman” Remo, who kills himself.

“All of them sent out of the world with words unworthy of them, eulogies that revealed only a deep ignorance of who they really were.” And so the narrator searches for the thread that connects them to each other and to her. As I say, nice language, but an unsatisfying story.
September 29, 2008: “Three” by Andrea Lee

4 comments:

Mark Richardson said...

I really enjoyed this story. The language was beautiful. I found each of the people she described very interesting. I may be a little anti-MFA in that I don't required a stick "profluence."

Anche mi piace italia! Che una bella paesa.

John Clavin said...

I enjoyed this story mainly because of the memorable characters of Ombretta, Francescon, and Remo. I agree that there wasn't much story, but that didn't bother me. I liked that the deaths of the three were mentioned at the beginning because it hooked me right into the story making me want to know what happened.
I am no expert here, but it seems to me that the concept of story has been changing over the past few years. The new Coen Brothers film "Burn After Reading" has an interesting twist on story, and like "Three" it has very memorable characters.
I would love to hear Andrea Lee discuss the creation of this story, but it seems that most short story authors want the work to stand on its own.

Paul Epstein said...

John Clavin said "I would love to hear Andrea Lee discuss the creation of this story, but it seems that most short story authors want the work to stand on its own."

My experience is that most writers relish the opportunity to discuss their own work. I often email authors to discuss their stories and they often reply with interesting comments about their own work. I wonder how many New Yorker authors know about this blog. I would bet that many of them would gladly blog about their own stories on this site if they knew about this website.

Paul Epstein

Clifford Garstang said...

Writing doesn't have to fit a mold to be beautiful. A paragraph, a phrase can be beautiful, and I think this story, as I said, is filled with beautiful language. And that's enough. As "story" though, for me at least, it isn't enough. And so, compared to other stories, it didn't transport me.

I agree that the characters are memorable.

I also think that a story has to stand on its own, but it's interesting to know a little bit about the author sometimes when thinking about a story. Here's a piece this author wrote in Oprah. It's about Italy, but not about this story specifically:
Andrea Lee in Oprah