20 Under 40: A Comprehensive (Subjective) Guide

Philipp Meyer, “What You Do Out Here, When You’re Alone,” June 14/21:

Just as he did with his breakout novel American Rust, Meyer creates almost instantly in this story (after two paragraphs about what the family only calls “The Accident”) an atmosphere that is comfortable and almost kind of homey. Max, a father and husband, is “lying on the floor next to the couch… because he did not feel like taking off his shoes.” The image reminded me of the opening of “The Brown Coast,” my favorite story from the fabulous Wells Tower collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. We find ourselves liking Max easily.

But it’s not all lounging around in The Oaks. “The Accident,” involving their son Harley, hangs over Max and his wife Lilli. We learn that she does not treat him well, hangs out with other people or avoids him, and that she’s also been unforgiving toward Harley. It’s particularly hurtful when Max picks up Chinese food for the two of them, but Lilli goes ahead and eats cold leftovers without him. Completely unapologetic, she tells him, “I guess I just got hungry.” And when he sits down to eat with her, she even asks him to get up and eat somewhere else. Bitch.

Philipp Meyer

Max is so quickly made identifiable that I was almost rooting for it when he fantasizes a bit about his neighbor Joy, who definitely has a thing for him. But the big ‘twist’ isn’t that Max will give in and leave his wife for Joy; it’s that after picking up Harley from prison, he’s going to pack up and leave both of them. “They were already fading from sight.”

Meyer’s writing is straightforward and clean. He favors long dashes—as do I—and doesn’t waste too much time with minute details. Dialogue is a strength of his. And this story is one of the best of the series, though it isn’t quite as memorable as others.

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