April 30, 2012: “Hand on the Shoulder” by Ian McEwan
It seemed evident from reading this “story” (available for free online, by the way), that it is an excerpt from a novel, and this is confirmed in the Q&A with Ian McEwan (the novel is called Sweet Tooth, which I think is a horrible name, but maybe it works for that particular book).
While the prose here is beautiful, and the situation—a woman recruited during the Cold War to work for Britain’s MI5—interesting, as a short story this falls completely flat for me. I kept waiting for something surprising to happen, and it didn't. Everything about it seems trite. Although it has a nice narrative arc and good tension, a story about adultery that meets a bad end is just too stale. Yes, the MI5 angle is interesting, but that’s about it. As a piece of the novel I suspect it’s fine, and I might even read this book, but I wish The New Yorker wouldn’t do this to us.