Sunday, July 31, 2011

A story by Justin Torres

I saw Torres's name in today's paper; a graduate of a local high school, he has his first book coming out, and he has a story in this past week's New Yorker. Given that I habitually avoid New Yorker fiction, with exception made for George Saunders, I had skipped his story.

"Reverting to a Wild State" is quite good, though I couldn't tell you what the title means. It's the story of a relationship that has ended, told in reverse chronological order. Having tried a reverse-order story myself a few years back, I know what a challenge it is, and I think Torres got right the way the story has to feel at both ends like you're at a key moment of discovery. He pulls this off largely by having the narrator back away from the story's conclusion, as if the past is too much to confront given where, now, he knows his story has headed. There's a bit about a golden feather found on a train platform that made the story, at the outset, seem like a fabulist's tale, but that tone was dropped and I don't think the feather—whatever it was doing there—paid off.

As usual, the New Yorker has run a story by someone with a book coming out; regardless of the quality, this always makes a story look, to me, like the tie-in action figure included in a Happy Meal. According to my local paper, the Houghton Mifflin publicity engine is firing on all cylinders: Torres has another story coming out in Harper's next month (congratulations) and will find himself mentioned in a host of high-profile magazines.

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