Friday, November 12, 2010

The New Yorker: "Boys Town" by Jim Shepard

Here’s another story that’s only available to subscribers. Next week is the same. It looks like The New Yorker is pulling the plug on free fiction. (My comments are late because my issue still hasn’t arrived and I really didn’t want to log onto the eNewYorker site to read it that way; now I have no choice.)

So if you don’t have access to this story, that’s a shame. It’s excellent, mostly because of the voice of Martin, the first person narrator. Martin is a loser and probably disturbed. His mother, with whom he lives, thinks he has post-traumatic stress disorder, but there are no mentions of deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan, although he was in the Army for four years and the reserves for another 4. He’s got some problems, though, that’s certain. He abused his wife and so has limited time with his son. He blames everyone else for his problems. And when he visits a woman he’s interested in and finds her ex-husband at her home he fires a gun through their window. He hears the police coming after himhe’s holed up in a tent in the woodsand he knows it’s not going to end well (fulfilling a prophecy that had been made about him years earlier).

His mother is no prize either, and it’s not hard to understand Martin. But lots of people have lousy mothers and don’t turn out to be the losers Martin is. And that’s why the titlea reference to the great movie with Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracyis significant.
If anyone ever tells you that you can’t write a story with an unsympathetic main character, point to this story as evidence that you sure as hell can.

November 8, 2010: “Boys Town” by Jim Shepard

6 comments:

katrina said...

I heard him read from this story at Bread Loaf. Riveting performance.

Mark Hubbard said...

Yes, agreed about we're probably losing the free story.

I'm a bit conflicted really: with the Kindle it would now be easier than ever for me to subscribe, but I think I'd only be subscribing for the one short story, much of the other content isn't relevant for Kiwis, and so much money going out everywhere else, so I guess I'll have to wait for the anthologies (do they do those?)

Clifford Garstang said...

No anthologies, but occasionally a few years of the mag will be available on CD. I recently bought the complete set, from the beginning to 2005, and plan to get updates. Quite a resource.

There will be an anthology of the 20 under 40 series from this year. I won't be buying that.

Chris said...

I agree that this is a great story. I disagree that the character is unsympathetic. I think that one of the reasons why this story works so well is because the author is able to make him sypathetic. He loves his son (at least he professes he does), he talks about self improvement, he goes to the library, he's got a dog--all that can make him sympathetic especially when we see how keeps setting himself up for failure.

Also, I loved how he went from past to present tense at the end.

Susan said...

Subscribe to The New Yorker! If we don't support the magazine, we'll lose this valuable fiction resource.

Clifford Garstang said...

I would rather that writers use the $40/year to subscribe to 2 literary magazines than to the New Yorker, which publishes only (almost) well known, established writers, many of whom are using the magazine to plug new books.