MONDAY: A “New Yorker” Story


This is an excerpt from John’s novel In the Shade of a Lightning Rod. Copyright is held by the author.

Chicago: May Day Party, 1981

AT THE other end of the table, Solly had begun to argue with a girl who had some strong opinions about Modern Literature. She mentioned The New Yorker. A voice crying in the wilderness.

The New Yorker! The New Yorker is the sewer of flabby, bourgeois humanism. It’s a voice whining in the wilderness. It’s whining in a wilderness it helped create. It’s the sewer, the very sewer of literature. Marcia, you’re an intelligent person, a college graduate, a med-student. How could you say something like that?” He turned to Lopez, the sax player, who was hopelessly drunk. “Do you want to hear what a typical story in The New Yorker is like?” Lopez shook his head. Solly addressed a wider audience. “It’s easy. There’s a formula to it. More than one, really. But a typical story goes like this. Quotation marks . . .” He wiggled his fingers in the air. “The voices of two superannuated Brahmins (Mom and Dad), who live alone in a house that smells faintly of brie and knotty pine. They’ve received a postcard from a little island east of Sri Lanka. Their superannuated son/daughter has written, in the gentle calligraphy of the islands east of Sri Lanka, to tell them that he/she has found him/herself in the gentle calligraphy of the islands east of Sri Lanka and that, after all these years, after all the quiet anguish he/she has suffered – alluding to Freudian complexes only rich WASPs are affected by – after all the quiet anguish he/she has caused them, he/she is, finally, happy. The parents don’t understand. Or, rather, they do understand but don’t react. The rest of the story is about Mom and Dad in their empty nest and the gentle and banal ritual they’ve hit upon as a necessary – but temporary – modus vivendi, something to give meaning to their empty lives. The house continues to smell faintly of brie and knotty pine. But that’s the problem. Dad is determined that it smell like one or the other. He starts buying brie, ‘for investment purposes’, he tells Mom. He’s on the phone day and night with his old cronies from Wall Street, trying to corner the market in brie futures. The house is full of brie. Mom doesn’t say anything. She hates brie. And also knotty pine. But she likes to play the commodities market. She buys two pine bosks in Vermont and a lumber yard in Nova Scotia. The house is full of knotty pine. In the end, the ritual reveals itself for what it is. Mom and Dad confront each other. Nothing has changed. The son/daughter is still practicing his/her brush strokes east of Ceylon. But now Mom and Dad are resigned and happy, and together will quietly await the inevitable: death by natural causes.”

He received a round of applause, but Marcia seemed unconvinced.

“It’s just a mouthpiece for the CIA,” said Conrad, the old lefty, who was haunted by visions of government conspiracy.


Image of John Satriano

John Satriano is a native of Chicago. His original work has appeared in
various publications, including Antaeus and Magic Realism in the U.S.
and Nuovi Argomenti and Pastrengo in Italy. He is also a translator and
the recipient of PEN’s Renato Poggioli Award.

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