Ferris has a novel coming out in January (The Unnamed) but this story doesn’t seem to be an excerpt from that, for which I’m grateful. It does suggest that Ferris is preoccupied with illness, however, since that is apparently what the novel is about, and that—based on the title of the story, if nothing else—is what this piece is about. While I enjoyed the read—the dialogue was especially funny—I don’t think that this story will be quite as popular as Ferris’s “The Dinner Party,” which won our Best New Yorker Story of the Year contest for 2008.
Still, it’s a good one. Arty Groys is retired and moves to Florida, and the next day his wife gets hit by a car. (Okay, that’s a little far-fetched, but self-consciously so; Ferris is telling us something.) He’s got various illnesses (see the title) and is understandably lonely in this unfamiliar landscape. He’s had something of a falling out with his one friend, Jimmy Denton (in a notable parallel with Arty’s neighbor Mrs. Zegerman, who has had a falling out with her friend), but still expects Jimmy to at least call on his birthday.
Jimmy doesn’t call, but he does send a . . . gift (a prostitute, equipped with condoms and Viagra), which seems to be just what Arty needs to be drawn out of his depression. The problem is, Viagra and heart conditions don’t mix, and so there are complications.
The reader sees the opportunity for a relationship between Arty and his neighbor, and indeed they do become friendly. Since I’ve just read Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, I was reminded of old Garnett Walker and his neighbor Nanny Rowley in that book. But while their relationship is developing as Arty recovers, it might be too late.
August 3, 2009: “The Valetudinarian” by Joshua Ferris