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 was a lot of fun, evil fun, but the sort of fun you’d like to have to get back at people who have been making you miserable.
Basically this is all a set up for our narrator to get back at their family. We learn everyone else is a gossip and a backbiter and generally miserable, but we never learn why the narrator is – until the end. Once we learn the narrator’s secret everyone in the family who had been maybe not quite a real character, or a bit of a generic blob, snap into focus. And the narrator isn’t exempt, either. They are just as guilty of being a bastard (pun intended, I suppose) as everyone else.
I find this to be a strange story because a lot of it is pretty generic, though with some very clever writing in it: “We had betrayed one another too many times to be able to sit comfortably around the same table together.”, and “Every visit to an aged parent is in the nature of a farewell.” In fact I was starting to think this was going to be yet another New Yorker dud that paints broad strokes about people who the author stereotypes and speaks in cliches – that’s a popular genre in this magazine, unfortunately.
Yet I think the author senses how dull a lot of these stories are and plays us for fools. He gives us a generic set up full of Roz Chast cut-outs (except for Floyd and Granma) and then turns it on its head. When we learn who the couple are that arrives late to the party and we see how the narrator was testing everyone there to see if they’d give the newcomers a chance, we learn to not take everything at face value, to look a little deeper under the surface.
Don’t judge. That’s a simple moral lesson, but we never learn it.