Friday, May 01, 2009

The New Yorker: "The Slows" by Gail Hareven

Kicking off Short Story Month!

It takes a little while to figure out what’s going on here because the narrative voice sounds normal and the references are unknown by familiar—The Preserves could be a forest preserve, for example, and so as a place name it doesn’t raise much of a question. In the second paragraph the narrator reveals he studies “the Slows” and it isn’t clear yet what this is. But soon we come to know that it is a group of savage humans, and for a time the reader might suspect that the narrator is not human.

But we learn that the Slows are confined to reservations, isolated from the rest of the population, and that this narrator is an anthropologist who studies them. He has learned that the government has decided to close the Preserves, and so his work will end, but there is also the question of what will happen to the Slows. The woman has brought her child—the larva, he calls it—and the situation becomes clearer. Society has developed Accelerated Offspring Growth, a treatment for infants that brings them rapidly to maturity. Its purpose was to help populate colonies on other planets, but was also implemented on earth. The Slows, however, insisted on keeping the old ways, and are afraid that the Accelerateds will take the larva and give them the treatment. The narrator has some sympathy for the woman’s plight, but he is disgusted by her (the breast feeding!) and in the end easily turns her in.

A bit of allegory is it? The problem with allegory often is that you can make it mean whatever you want it to. So, I pick a political interpretation. Obviously, the Slows are the Conservatives/Republicans. They think they are preserving the old ways, but they are really just standing in the way of progress. And the Accelerateds are Progressives/Democrats, who are on the verge of eliminating the last of the Slows. Total domination. (There is that nagging bit bout an outbreak of Slow behavior in the colonies, but maybe that’s just the suggestion that backwardness, like polio, cannot truly be eradicated.) Or something. (Of course the author isn't American, she's Israeli, and so I'm almost certainly wrong. So then, what's it about?)

May 4, 2009: “The Slows” by Gail Hareven


Courtney said...


First off, I truly enjoy your site and although I come for the New Yorker reviews, I love the bits about your gardening.

This is the second? third? speculative fiction piece in the New Yorker since the new year. What gives? Is this a normal ratio or do you think a new editor is introducing new tastes?

Clifford Garstang said...

Heh. I was just thinking about the garden.

I also thought it odd to have another piece of speculative fiction. I don't count The Tiny Feast in that, but The Invasion From Outer Space falls in that category. I suppose that's why I tend to want them to be allegories . . .

I can't explain (and don't want to speculate).

Shiffron said...

I always look forward to your review of the latest New Yorker piece.
You're right about allegory- and therefore it may come as no surprise that I don't quite see the political symbolism in this rather artless story. I see many parallels to Huxley - the use of "savage" is telling (and slow=savage), and the process of A.O.G. child rearing is similar to the Bokanovsky process in Brave New World. Thematically,I'm not sure what this adds up to- the destruction of humanity at the hands of technology? If so, it's a trite theme.
(PS. I'm surprised you don't review Harper's stories, which I find are consistently more fresh and adventurous than those in the New Yorker- like this month's by Italo Calvino).
Thanks for letting me air my thoughts.

Clifford Garstang said...

Thanks for your comments and for making the Huxley parallel. And I agree that it isn't clear what it's supposed to add up to.

As for the stories in Harper's--I've often thought I should begin writing about those, too. With your encouragement, perhaps I will. Stay tuned. And thanks for visiting!

morva shepley said...

Well, Hareven's Israeli and she's writing about a minority group. The minority group has been confined to reserves. Sympathy for the minority group is seen as a threat to the greater society.

Perhaps she's just trying to remind us of a few things. I interpreted the story as a general plea for self determination, but Hareven could have had something more specific in mind.

Clifford Garstang said...

Well, yes, she's Israeli, as I noted. But does that suggest those in the majority must inevitably lose patience with the minority and consent to genocide, which is what seems to happen here? Whether we're talking about a Palestinian minority in Israel, or a Jewish minority in Hitler's Germany, that doesn't seem to be a very sound message.

So I hope she had something else in mind!

Seaurchin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seaurchin said...

I also enjoy your site, and find the NY-er reviews interesting and thought provoking.

The slows describes the failure of cultures to be able to view other cultures in a positive or at least neutral light. Culture create distorted eyeglasses from which we can only view other people from other cultures as bizarre and perhaps disgusting. They become savages which should either be feared, pitied, obliterated, or assimilated.

Even the anthropologist, who has studied them for years, remains so strongly enrooted in his own culture he fails to see the slows as simply another way of living and not as disgusting or repulive.

What I think is perhaps most fascinating is the way she tugs us into her point of view by using words such as larvae to describe the other culure, causing us to recoil away from the slows, even though they are us.

Khatia said...

I just read the story. What I find interesting was somebody describing humans. Who are we, how we think how we act and what somebody else may think on all of it

Maggie and Company said...

I thought it was about how children are exposed to adult like things, that they're given so much responsibility as children. The Slows try to keep their childhood, but the rest of the world wants them--and their children--to grow up. The force their children to reach adulthood super quickly, but the Slows allow their children to grow on their own.