Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The New Yorker: "The Warm Fuzzies" by Chris Adrian

It turns out that the previous Adrian story in The New Yorker, which I liked very much, was an excerpt from the novel that he’s now finishing up. It looks like this one, which I like far less, is, too. See the Q&A with Chris Adrian.

Here we have Molly, the teen daughter of the Carters and a member of the Carter Family Band, a Partridge Family clone that sings Christian-themed songs written by the father. It’s a big family that is supplemented by foster kids, currently Paul, who prefers the name Peabo. There apparently has been a long stream of foster kids, and we get the impression that they’re always black. This one is fairly compliant—he shakes his tambourine in the band, is polite about the food—but there seems to be a connection between Molly and him. And that gets Paul/Peabo kicked out in a record short time. And it isn’t Peabo’s fault, really, but Molly looks to be heading that direction as well.

I can’t tell you how much I didn’t care. The story is too long for such a weak climax and ending. Way too long.

September 27, 2010: “The Warm Fuzzies” by Chris Adrian

11 comments:

F. Escobar said...

If I counted right, this story by Adrian concludes the 20-under-40 cycle. It would be interesting to see your thoughts about the series as a whole.

Clifford Garstang said...

Underwhelmed.

Anonymous said...

Very much in agreement. Is it possible there aren't 20 great writers, that the list should have been 10 or even 5? I read that 16 of the 20 are MFA graduates. I think, frankly, that says something about the current state of fiction in america, namely how inorganic, fact-checked, structured and processed it is. too much careerism, spotlight-wanting, award-hording, self-congratulating going on in this humble poster's opinion.

F. Escobar said...

I don't know if I agree with everything Anonymous said, but it's an increasingly widespread view. And it's got at least some basis in fact: I can't tell you how often I pick up a story and find it a struggle to read past the first page because so many of its elements were evidently workshopped into it, like dashes of stream of consciousness or botched attempts at slipping in details about character or plot in a glaringly sly way. Saying more about that would take some space, and it would be a far too intrusive thing to do in this comment.

Just three things, and I promise I'm done. First, have you seen Clifford's article on MFAs (here)? It's an interesting take, akin to Gardner's about writers' workshops in On Becoming a Novelist.

Second, you may be interested in the introduction to Portable MFA in Creative Writing, with a provocative quotation by Noah Lukeman on MFAs.

Finally, there was an interesting article by Elif Batuman in a recent issue of the LRB. It's on "programme fiction," and focuses on the effect of MFAs on postwar American fiction. There's much that's objectionable in the article, but you, Anon, may find this bit particularly titillating: "That’s the torture of walking into a bookshop these days: it’s not that you think the books will all be terrible; it’s that you know they’ll all have a certain degree of competent workmanship, that most will have about three genuinely beautiful or interesting sentences and no really bad ones, that many will have at least one convincing, well-observed character, and that nearly all will be bound up in a story that you can’t bring yourself to care about. All that great writing, trapped in mediocre books! Who, indeed, has time to read them?"

Clifford Garstang said...

I really think the problem with this group of stories is not in the MFA world that many of the writers come from but the fact that they aren't really stories. Many are excerpts from novels and young writers are driven by the market to write novels instead of stories. TNY is apparently compelled by the market to publish excerpts, although I wish that weren't the case. The days of the "New Yorker Story" are over, sadly. The novels by these writers may turn out be fine, but it is a rare excerpt that works as a short story, and there is nothing finer than a fine story, in my opinion.

Sarah said...

I admire Chris Adrian so much -- he's a pediatric hematologist-oncologist (maybe still in training) as well as a fiction writer, and I thought his last story for the NY-er was terrific.

But this one felt only partially imagined (though it did stand on its own). It's easy to make fun of ridiculous, cartoonish Christians, like the Duggers on TLC, but a lot harder to see it fully from the inside. It also felt hazy in terms of time; perhaps that was intentional but repeated use of words like "snarky" took me out of the story. And I think it's just plain wrong to name a singing family from VA the Carter family.

F. Escobar said...

Cliff, how right you are about the noxious role extracts played in the stories from the 20 under 40 series. I'm sorry to leave another longish comment, but you may find it particularly interesting to read a rare insight into how extracts work at TNY. This comes from Daniel Alarcón, who told a Spanish magazine how "Second Lives" was put togehter. I was stunned to read this. It's available in Spanish, here, but here's an English translation of the most relevant portion:

"I think it was in March when I was asked to send [to TNY] the complete manuscript of my novel, something I didn't want to do: after all, it's still a work in progress, and it's more than certain that the novel will change a lot before it's over. However, I followed my agent's advice and sent it. Deborah Treisman, the editor assigned to my text, took the first fragments of my novel and, using them as base, pulling here and there, put together something that resembled a story. Deborah and I then had a long conversation, and that's how this material finally became 'Second Lives.'"

Clifford Garstang said...

Thanks for the links to Alarcon's comments and the translation of that section. I first became aware of Treisman's "exctraction" methods when I read the DeLillo "story" that was pulled from his novel The Falling Man. I even heard Treisman speak about this at a conference, once. And it's one reason why I'm so troubled by these pieces when they appear--in some ways they aren't really the authors' work.

F. Escobar said...

It almost makes you want to give up on reading New Yorker fiction altogether. It's like reading publicity digests of literary works. Or like this: I heard Eric Schlosser say once that fast food gets its taste from scientists, not chefs; that seems appropriate to this context, too. As you said, the days of the "New Yorker Story" are over. Maybe I'll just read those stories picked by Perpetual Folly as the best of the year; Saunders's, for instance, was marvelous.

brett said...

Are you kidding me? You wrote that Peabo did nothing wrong and only gets kicked out of the group because he has a connection with Molly?

No, he goes into her room one night and shows her his dick.

Clifford Garstang said...

And, Brett, as I said--I can't tell you how much I didn't care. Adrian did nothing to make me interested in this incident.