‘Nachman From Los Angeles’ by Leonard Michaels

Michaels, Leonard 2001

Nachman From Los Angeles by Leonard Michaels, 2001

The magic trick:

Foretelling a conscience-haunting mistake early in the story

This story ran in The New Yorker 61 days after 9/11. Particularly interesting given that it is a story in which a Jewish protagonist and an Arab prince engage in a bizarre dalliance of cooperation, conspiracy, competition, and, ultimately, collapse. If they’re standing in for political statements, I’m 100 percent not interested. Fortunately, there is so much depth to this story, you can approach it on any level you care to.

I like the structure. We are told in the very first paragraph that Nachman did something 20 years prior that still haunts him to this day. Intriguing. ‘What is it?’ we wonder. We wind up reading the entire story waiting for the worst. Not only does that generate suspense, it tints all the action in shadow. And that’s quite a trick on Michaels’s part.

The selection:

“I’m glad you feel that way. But don’t get too sentimental about Ali and forget the money part. Ali is very rich, you know. I would write a paper for Ali every day, but I can’t write. You should see Ali’s girlfriend, by the way. Georgia Sweeny. You ever go to football games? She’s a cheerleader. An incredible piece. I’d let her sit on my face, man.”

Nachman hung up.

Norbert was shockingly vulgar. Nachman almost changed his mind about writing the paper, but then he remembered the look in Ali’s eyes. It had had nothing to do with the cheerleader or with being rich. Nachman’s resentment faded. He went back to the books and read through the night.

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