Sunday, January 10, 2010

The New Yorker: "Safari" by Jennifer Egan

This “story” is actually an excerpt from Egan’s forthcoming novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, which, according to Random House, is about a fellow named Bennie Salazaar. In this excerpt we don’t even meet Bennie, but we do meet Lou, his mentor, various associates of Lou's, Lou’s two children from his first marriage, and Mindy, who is destined to be his third wife. So it isn’t clear what this excerpt has to do with the novel, but as excerpts go it stands alone pretty well.

The piece is unusual, though, in its omniscient point of view and the way, especially toward the end, that it offers flash-forwards revealing the futures of many of the characters, including the children, Charlene and Rolph, and also Mindy, the girlfriend. But the main action of this excerpt is this: Lou, a record producer, is on safari in Africa with his much younger girlfriend, two of his children, his travel agent, and two members of a band he produces, and their girlfriends. (It has too many characters.) Among other things that happen, the group encounters a pride of lions and one of the musicians wanders too close, prompting a lioness to attack him. The incident provides fodder for discussion, and also solidifies the attraction the girlfriend feels for one of the guides, an Englishman who saves the day with his rifle.

The ending of the story, though, since it isn’t an ending (since it isn’t a story), fizzles. One of the kids utters what might be a punchline for the story, except that it doesn’t really mean much. It’s an entertaining piece and suggests that Egan’s novel will be fun, but beyond that it doesn’t do anything for me.

January 11, 2010: “Safari” by Jennifer Egan


Weed said...

Cliff, I thought this one was unusually vivid for a NYer story. Wonder if Egan considered the resonances with one of the greatest short stories ever, The Short Happy Life of Frances Macomber?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I smelled a lot of Hemingway in the plot, except minus the carefully hidden agendas of the characters and perfect conciseness of language.

I agree with Cliff: entertaining, but little else.

Tim said...

My brother, a Hollywood director, calls me a "sweetheart". I guess so. I literally gasped at one of the flash forwards near the story's end. Won't say more than that for anyone who hasn't read it. That character is for me—and was continuously throughout the story—the main character. Completely blindsided. And like him will never forget.

aq said...

Loved this story. Lots of characters like there are, sometimes, in life. I liked the dynamics between them, the insights into their personalities, the way the point of view bounces back between the two kids and the girlfriend, the flash-forwards.

I thought the end was kind of perfect - an intimacy shared between the two characters who I'd come to like, the punchline of a packed paragraph where you imagine how Rolph grows up - he's insightful and sensitive and observant, too gentle to survive his approaching adolescence and early adulthood. The comment threw light in all directions - how the kids were observers, the old women observers, and we the readers as well, observers, but perhaps hiding out, with binoculars as camouflage.

By the way, I enjoy your blog - and since I've decided I'm going to read every one of the New Yorker short stories in 2010, it will be fun to check in and read your and other's viewpoints.

The Latent Fox said...

I didn't like this story at all. I thought it was hollow-sounding and too packed with language that seemed dedicated to setting up things for the reader rather than just conveying them in some other way. I just had a really adverse reaction to this story. The ending, too, I thought was crap! I guess I should be a little more specific in what it was that turned me off about this but I honestly didn't read the whole story. It just seemed a little unreasonable and unrealistic to me.

The dialogue between the daughter and father in the beginning was one thing that I thought was not particularly well-done. "Yes dear, I am aware of that," the father says when she points out that he was still married to her mother (his first wife) during that particular trip in question. Ahhh, it just seemed a little melodramatic to me, that's all.

Paul said...

No insightful comments on the story from me except for an I-liked-it. Everyone loved a story about a year ago about a female shoplifter -- and I think that was Jennifer Egan too.

For those interested in literary politics and Jennifer Egan, here is a letter she signed:

Clifford Garstang said...

Good memory, Paul. That was Found Objects, one of Perpetual Folly's Top Five New Yorker Stories from 2007.

And thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...


Okay, so the last line - the two old ladies were watching people the whole time, right. Was there also a suggestion they were lesbians? Why did Lou enjoy them so much? Was he in on their secret?

Clifford Garstang said...

Honestly, I don't know. I just thought they were nosy and he realized it. Maybe the novel will provide an answer . . .

Paul said...

The Anonymous-Cliff exchange just above reminds me of a class I once took with Don Graham, a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly.

We were encouraged to write questions on something we were studying (I can't remember the work) and pass them to him so that he could briefly answer.

One of his answers was "The bartender is not, in my opinion, a homosexual."

This Don Graham memory is very funny to me. As if anyone could learn anything from this type of Grahamism!

Paul Epstein

Clifford Garstang said...

"The old ladies are not, in my opinion, lesbians."