Monday, July 28, 2008

The New Yorker: "Yurt" by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

This story appears to be an excerpt from Bynum’s forthcoming novel, but unlike many New Yorker excerpts, this one is credible as a story, it seems to me. It’s about Ms. Hempel, a young teacher who struggles to make a decision of any kind, and is filled with admiration for another teacher Ms. Duffy, who takes a long international trip and comes back pregnant. It turns out that Ms. Duffy cut her trip short and came home, whereupon she met the man she’s married, but never mind—that too strikes Ms. Hempel as bold. (Ms. Duffy will be living in a yurt with her husband and baby, and the yurt seems to take on symbolic weight: decisiveness, adventure, action.) Ms. Hempel, on the other hand, is going nowhere, and seems to be aroused by anyone who can make a decision. In the end, although her transformation is small, the reader can feel her longing for that kind strength, and there seems to be the slightest possibility that she is on the verge of a breakthrough. It’s not a great story, but it is enjoyable.

July 21, 2008: “Yurt” by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum


Greenridge said...

There was a review in the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday of Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum's book "Ms. Hempel Chronicles". I went back and re-read the short story excerpt from the July 21st, 2008 New Yorker "Yurt" as the review triggered my memory. You might enjoy it:

Unknown said...

Hey, thanks! I did enjoy it, and I appreciate the link.

Stargirl said...

I just read the story in the "Best American Short Stories 2009" collection and thought the most interesting thing was Ms. Duffy's peculiar outburst to the little "fumbles" the Mr. Chapman (the teacher replacing him I believe) made. I also enjoyed the considerable set of affairs and interminglings between the elementary school teachers, but other than that it seems like a story that could have been fantastic yet falls short.