Category Archives: Choking Victim

Choking Victim: Read on April 26, 2016

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.

97% done with Choking Victim

I like the Latin lesson on how express (to express yourself) had once been used to say to extort.

“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.” Purple monkey dishwasher.

So Linda just left the baby there?

This was dumb. The world is dumber that this story exists.

95% done with Choking Victim

How does one sculpt a glacier? You kinda have to sculpt the valley instead and then just fill it with ice?

Yes, of course she writes about actresses, what else would an idiot write about?

Bullshit, she’s said nothing to impress this guy.

Well that went totally nowhere. And of course the guy is a pervert who made some creepy sex tape exploiting some other college girl.

93% done with Choking Victim

Karen, all your friends have become herion addicts: it’s more profitable than dealing with your boring nothingness.

So without the baby she’s feeling more human, more real. Do I have that right? Is that why Linda thought the shirt was borrowed and this boy man thinks he knows her? She’s more real now?

Like anyone, even a pretentious ex film student would say all that to her in a drug store.

90% done with Choking Victim

Karen is going to leave her baby with a stranger? Ok….

“She felt oddly good…” Kill me now. Roll up the magazine into a dagger and ram it down my ‘throat tube’.

She’s dragging the stroller behind her? Uh, author person, even the biggest idiot would push it on its hind wheels. A trained otter would figure this out. The author is actually dumber than the character. Impressive to write above your weight class

87% done with Choking Victim

“It’s easy to lose yourself in a kid, even easier if you lose it.” Is that what this is? Karen used to be a human but the kid is holding her identity hostage? I mean it’s not a terrible idea but the execution is droll.

“Karen didn’t trust the people of this city, the city in which she lived.” That’s an actual sentence in this story and it was actually published by adults who went to college and studied the arts.

85% done with Choking Victim

Oh now they’re old friends all of a sudden. In one paragraph we get “She was full of stories”, as if they were long friends who knew each other well. I know what the author is trying to say, but the author sucks at saying things.

100% cotton business cards. What, is Linda like that stupid American Psycho movie that sucked just as bad as this story because it wasn’t as clever as it thought?

80% done with Choking Victim

As if the young grandmother, salad lady could get so close as to tug her sleeve in broad daylight. Is Karen and the baby blind and deaf? This whole thing stretches plausibility. Even a science fiction story would be more believable with aliens shooting black holes with laser beams on them.

Karen has met her match! Linda is just as boring as she is! We’re on the event horizon of absolute boredom!

60% done with Choking Victim

Untamed water? What’s that?

Karen, you’ve never felt alive so sitting in whatever untamed water is will not make you feel more alive.

Yeah, no, if the front wheel fell off a stroller it would not tip so far as to cause the baby to hit the sidewalk. I’ve built literally hundreds of every stroller Target has ever sold and this just would not happen, it would only tip forward to rest on the forks.

55% done with Choking Victim

I don’t buy that teenage girls will take time out of making out to make fun of a boring lady pushing her baby around. I mean maybe, but it seems like we’re getting a #surethathappened moment made up by someone wanting attention.

I like this observation of her only living in a world of women where she is a new, incompetent employee. That’s an interesting insight into a first time mother.

45% done with Choking Victim

His coughing grew and solidified like a skyscraper seen from an approaching car? What the fuck? That’s the stupidest metaphor in the history of the written language. It makes almost no sense other than the coughing becomes clearer to hear? Maybe?

I feel like I’m getting stupider reading this. Is the New Yorker trying to kill me? Can I sue then for literary homicide?

30% done with Choking Victim

Men walking past her window berating faceless entities on their phones. So nobody has a face, is that what we’re after, no identity? Please be about that.

“Without a steady stream of well-articulated adult speech, an infant might lag in its development.” I suppose this could be about our author?

Karen has about as much personality and mind as tepid bathwater.

15% done with Choking Victim

We’re told there’s no conflict in the home. OK, great, so then do we have a story? No conflict means no story.

He had a “healthy, normal face”. Wow, I’m on the edge of my seat here!

It’s like I’m being dared to finish this story without falling asleep in the middle of it and then waking up with no memory of ever having read anything.