Disclaimer: I never look at the name of the author before reading a story in the New Yorker, I cover it up with my hand so as not to be influenced by gender, race, or if they’re famous already. I take each story as it is with no preconceived notions.
This story sucks.
Look, I get it, the author wants to tell a story about the isolation of a stay-at-home mother. And that’s a great subject to write about, but there is absolutely nothing of interest going on here. Nothing. This is the most boring and pointless story I’ve ever read. And it’s not just boring, it’s badly written. Very badly written.
Here’s an actual sentence in the story: “Karen didn’t trust the people of this city, the city in which she lived.” This was actually printed in the New Yorker. An adult typed that sentence, that sentence was mailed off to a posh New York office where other adults with fancy college degrees sat around a table and allowed it to be published for millions of people (well, maybe like a few dozen of us who actually read these short stories) to read.
Here’s the deal, and I’m going to give the author some benefit of the doubt: The narrator, Karen, is an unreliable narrator. She’s lost her sense of identity after having a child, “It’s easy to lose yourself in a kid, even easier if you love it.” and so everything we get here is the product of a lonely person who has lost touch of the world, of her career (writing), and exists in such an insular world of consumer products and loneliness, that she’s almost become like her infant daughter with no conception of how the world works or any ability to express herself in it. But the story is so poorly written that the writer absolutely fails to convince me that this was the intention.
I’m not asking for James Joyce here – that would be unfair to anyone – but is this really the best someone could come up with to explore how a stay-at-home mother might feel about her isolation? There is no character here for us to hang our hat on, even in flashback Karen is so dull, has no personality (sorting pictures in the library and wetting her feet in a stream over vacation is her favorite all-time memory) that I can’t give the author credit for giving us an unreliable narrator whose loneliness and disconnectedness is being explored and that we’re actually inside her mind.
But even worse the author is just plain lazy. At one point when Karen goes back to retrieve the stroller she drags it behind her. Has the author never pushed a stroller before? Even if the front wheel were to fall off, all you would do is tilt it back and push it on it’s two remaining rear wheels. Even a martian from Plan 9 would figure this out. But here the writer is having Karen drag it behind her.
Oh, but maybe that’s intentional?
No, sorry, don’t buy it. I don’t buy it because once Karen is freed of her baby (leaving it at the cafe) she sort of comes out of her shell, starts to feel a bit more like her old (though still boring) self. Freed of that anchor she can see the world right again, like her husband did after the baby was born and he started to come into focus more. Karen would not drag a two wheeled stroller behind her because nobody is that dumb, it’s just lazy, ill-thought out writing on the part of the author.
So I can’t give the author credit for immersing us into the lonely mind of Karen.
And what about her neighbor, what was that all about? Seemed like that was going somewhere, but nope, he’s just back to stealing her mail. The once place where there might be some conflict for the story just gets pushed aside.
There is no story here. I feel no sympathy with Karen because there is no Karen. And don’t tell me that was the point either. Yeah, the line about “her only living in a world of women where she is a new, incompetent employee.” is interesting and seemed to have a lot of potential to explore how a lonely mother navigates this strange new world of women always giving advice on how to raise other people’s children. That would have been a fantastic story. But Linda, our representative for this cult is just as dull as Linda. And then she’s just gone at the end of the story anyway. So who cares?
This whole story is a tepid mess. It’s lazily written (“She felt oddly good… “), has no point or conflict, contains no characters of any interest (except the neighbor who we never explore), and whose insightful contribution to arts and letters is the line “The past was just a place where uncontrolled freaks you had never consciously decided to include in your life entered it anyway and staggered around, breaking things.”
That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. No wonder Karen’s best friend took up heroin and stopped answering her calls. I’m considering picking up the habit myself after reading this nonsense.