I think the worst reaction you can have to someone’s art is to be bored and have no reaction to it. This story bored me. I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s not very focused and can’t seem to settle on what it wants to deal with.
We start when the narrator is in elementary school – I wasn’t sure if it was a boy or a girl narrator, though that’s my own prejudices since for some reason I thought it was a girl – and we learn a little about death through a few characters. We also learn the character likes to follow the rules and is a smarty-pants: likes to be smarter than everyone, but also wants to fit in.
I liked this first bit.
The middle part I didn’t get. Jesus showed up, offered to help him with his novel, the narrator refused help but gave Jesus $10 and then regretted not asking for help. We learn the narrator is obsessed with writing about Jesus and guilt and we’re given a few clues in the first part about this (he prays that Beverly will die, and she does), but because the story is written in these short bursts that I don’t believe the narrator has earned us believing anything about them no matter how much the author tells us we should.
The final part is a little better, but the narrator is so glib about death and paints his wife as a saint that there’s no character growth here. There’s no growth at all, really. No emotions are earned, the jokes i the hospital are bland, and I feel nothing when the narrator dies. There’s no emotional core here, no character to empathize with because the narrator is too busy being judgemental. And since we learn more about other characters (unreliability) then nothing here rings true because we’re not given enough of the narrator to really know him.
This started off well, but it falls apart pretty bad. I didn’t hate it, but I was bored to tears, too. And this story seems to follow a trend (at least as published in the New Yorker) of stories that are unfocused, with no real point, but have a few very well written lines sprinkled throughout: “Saints are not the easiest companions.”, and “I was working on my novel – don’t even ask…”
But really, “don’t even ask”. There’s nothing here.