I came across the New Yorker Fiction Podcast when if first kicked up in 2007. The premise is simple; a New Yorker author reads the story of another New Yorker author. And then there is discussion. That’s right, you get to listen to Jhumpa Lahiri and David Sedaris and Junot Díaz and Jonathan Franzen read their favorites stories and then discuss them with Deborah Treisman, the Fiction Editor at the New Yorker. So it’s pretty much like heaven for an English major; your own personal seminar with basically every single one of the great contemporary fiction writers. Here are a few of my favorites:
“Roy Spivey” is one of those stories that hits you hard. A brief airline encounter between a “Hollywood heartthrob” and a perfectly ordinary woman. It’s a rare gem of first-person narrative and is filled with phrases like “a conversation that is specifically about everything.” Read in Sedaris’ shaky, wisp of a speaking voice, the vulnerability within July’s story becomes devastating.
Denis Johnson’s “Emergency” is basically the story of a fairly nasty drug trip. Nothing happens, seemingly nothing changes. Johnson populates the scene with a series of bizarre secondary characters – a pregnant rabbit, a hitchhiker, a guy with a knife in his eye – but the main “protagonists” are unlikeable and wholly unsympathetic (one of whom is referred to mainly by the moniker “Fuckhead”). Yet this story is a classic. It’s all in the dialogue. The succinct deadpan humor, pulled off splendidly in the text, draws the reader in. And the hints of heavy Truth, sprinkled beautifully into the hallucinatory dialogue, knock the reader out.
“A&P” is Updike’s most anthologized, perhaps even his most lauded story. It’s punchiness, it’s emotional compactness combined with its unmistakable Americanness make it a must-read for thousands of Freshman English classrooms (including mine). And perhaps its ubiquity had detracted from its very real, very effective charm. There’s something about hearing this story – a story all about the young male gaze and young male attempted heroism – in a woman’s voice that gets at the nerve of the story. Surpassingly electrifying for a story that is seemingly about buying canned herring snack.