20 Under 40: A Comprehensive (Subjective) Guide

Rivka Galchen, “The Entire Northern Side Was Covered with Fire,” June 14/21:

It’s difficult to know what to make of Galchen’s story. It has elements of her successful novel Atmospheric Disturbances, like identity crises and dissolving relationships, but it seems unfinished. It could be an excerpt. Again we see the frustration of The New Yorker’s refusal to make this distinction. I suppose I could have contacted a publicist to ask (as you’ll see I did with the Tower story, sort of), but that wouldn’t change the point, which is that it shouldn’t be a veiled secret when the magazine is passing off a novel excerpt as a stand-alone short story.

Trish’s husband has just left her, and she’s already hearing how terrible the guy was, courtesy of her brother over the phone. He reveals to her the crushing news that her husband had been operating a blog (“I-Can’t-Stand-My-Wife-Dot-Blogspot-Dot-Com”), and continues to say other things that he believes are comforting to her but are actually making her feel worse. We all know people like this. The people who tell you, after you’re heartbroken from a breakup, “She wasn’t hot anyway.” Thanks, buddy. Trish’s brother tells her that he spoke to his own shrink about his brother-in-law’s blog, and then declares, “I’m going to come over and we’re going to read it together. Or not. If that’s what you want.”

The story gets off track from there, but part of the point is that Trish is left scattered from the departure of her husband (the first task she focuses on is buying a new cheese grater online). Toward the end, she ponders prison letters she has received. The story ends with self-questioning, and I was left scratching my head. Galchen is undoubtedly a major talent, but it’s her novel that shows it, whereas this puzzle of a story feels unsolved, and unfortunately, unsatisfying. Even if it’s an excerpt from a forthcoming work.


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