Saturday, September 05, 2009

The New Yorker: "Distant Relations" by Orhan Pamuk

Despite the relatively exotic setting of Istanbul, this New Yorker story—for a welcome change—takes a traditional form and has a satisfying, if open, conclusion. It may not be the best story of the year, but it’s the best in weeks.

Kemal is thinking back to 1975 and the events that changed his life. He was the son of wealthy parents and had recently returned to Turkey from his studies in America. He was engaged to a beautiful woman from a good family, and his future was bright. Until he met Fusun. Kemal has done the right thing by going to a shop to buy a purse that his fiancée has admired, but when he sees Fusun, a distant cousin (not by blood), his world is rocked. She’s stunning, and there have been whispers about her because she participated in a beauty pageant (not a good thing in Turkey in the 70s, apparently).

In the end, while he realizes he’s still going to get married, he’s also not going to drop Fusun. And so his world is going to get very complicated.

Which makes for a terrific opening to a novel, which I’m guessing this is. Pamuk, we’re told, has a new novel due out in October, “The Museum of Innocence,” and while I don’t know for sure it seems likely that this story is drawn from that work. While I wish the magazine would tell us when they’re publishing novel excerpts, this one, at least, works very well as a stand-alone story.

September 7, 2009: “Distant Relations” by Orhan Pamuk


Pamela said...

I enjoyed this story, too. I read the ending as the narrator was going to drop his fiance. It's clear he stays with Fusun in some way, because there's a sentence early on about how she later likes to mimic something he did in their first (in the story) encounter. Did I miss something?

Clifford Garstang said...

Pamela, you may be right. Certainly he keeps Fusun and we know that because of the line you mention, but I had the impression he was going to keep her secret, hence the need for the use of his mother's flat, and proceed with his wedding. We'll have to read the book next month to find out! (Perhaps this is a man's interpretation . . .)

Paul Epstein said...


Do you happen to know what their rationale is for not saying when the fiction pieces are novel excerpts, and when they are short stories?

Harper's doesn't have the same secrecy policy.

Paul Epstein

Clifford Garstang said...

I don't know, but I'm going to try to find out. I'm going to post something, maybe later tonight, about the Coetzee "story" in the current Harper's which, as you say, tells you right up front that it's an excerpt from his new novel.

F. Escobar said...

I agree with Pamela: I think the narrator is going to leave his fiancée. There's the "mimicking" sentence near the beginning. And there's also this: Kemal's dinners with his mother, who had encouraged him to marry his fiancée, turn sour as time passes, "her eyes filled half with sadness, half with reproach." Such a glimpse of the future is, I think, indicative (not definitive: the story does not allow for that) of what's coming.

Jim said...

Thanks for telling me whether this might be an excerpt. Googling on New Yorker's fiction is the only way to find out if it is truly a short story.

I don't want to waste my time on something that I will end up re-reading in a novel OR that might be just an unsatisfying muddle because it's being published due to the author's name to drum up publicity and not because it works as a short story.

God knows that there enough good short stories around that they don't have to cobble up these "excerpts" every two weeks or so. The New Yorker is definitely abusing what it should see as its responsibility to literature as one of the last widely read resources for short stories.