The new story in the April 2nd issue of the New Yorker rocked me. It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a New Yorker story and there have been one or two near misses in the past several months. I’m glad I waited. You think that maybe this is the one but you’re not absolutely sure. Then you strike a pen that’s seems to write in liquid gold instead of ink and you are absolutely sure. So my advice, story lovers, is to wait for the real thing. Don’t compromise.
We kick off with the first person narrator waiting for his father in an airport. His father has come from Newark so the son half-assumes a New Jersey residence for his father but he’s not sure. Not sure? It’s or wherever the hell he’s living.
The son hasn’t called to check on the flight so he has been wolfing down gross pumpkin loaves at a gross coffee bar. He’s had two slices and the slave worker in the coffee bar gives him a third slice, the last one they have, for free at the risk of her job. The son is like a walking tent.
His father walks right past him at arrivals. The son has to call into his father’s receding back to get his attention. There’s another fat joke. He’s glad his father doesn’t want to hug him since he tends to engulf. We learn we are in Tucson.
I like that VL has introduced the son solo first by the wait in the coffee bar with the pumpkin loaf. Only after you have a clear sense of who the son is does Lodato introduce the father.
Father is evasive about where he is living now or how long he is staying over with his son. His knapsack looks like it’s filled with several weeks of unlaundered clothes. Father is either a bum or an on-the-grid, off-the-grid type. Mostly off. They stare at the luggage carousel for a while until father remembers he doesn’t have any other luggage. The son wishes a fine unclaimed case was his father’s, sort of like he wishes he was in an alternate life where such a case could belong to his father.
P.E. Parallel Energetics is the est-like self-realization scam that the son belongs to. Neat segue: the son could never have handled an encounter with his father if it weren’t for the confidence that this spiritual discipline has given him. Plus the pot that his mentor in the order has sold to him.
The story then veers off divinely to a nutty explanation of this desert religion which involves thinking that you have multiple selves existing alongside your present self, some worse than you and some who have cleaned up their shit and are better than you. The object of the religion is to channel the better yous through you. This goes on for the paragraph after paragraph. Victor Lodato either doesn’t know how to organize a story or he is a comic genius who is a gripping storyteller. But rejoice story lovers! The latter is the case.
One problem I had reading this story is that it’s so divinely funny (Yes, I have used that word twice out of necessity.) that I found myself almost laughing to death over tragic acts.
The mother’s death is told in a flashback. Father and son are at the beach and when they get back home they discover mother and, matter of factly observed, sort of tossed into the story as an afterthought, the rope. If you want to consider that timing is everything in a story, then this story is timed to the second. Victor Lodato can stop on a dime if he wishes to.
There’s some very serious stuff to follow with humor so black I felt the guilty pleasure of becoming enthralled with this story while still being convinced that the writer was in dead earnest. When the reader is placed on the story’s edge like that, not sure whether he is being sent up or sent down for misreading the story, a master teller of tales is at work.
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux has added even more to the luster to their name by having Victor Lodato as one of their writers. I hope the New Yorker has done one of their numbers on us again and that P.E. is really an adaptation from a novel to come! There’s a certain amount of being large depreciation in the story. But, judged by a photo I saw, Victor himself is as slender as a reed in a spring pond. So what’s he trying to pull? Read the story in the current New Yorker and try to figure him out!