‘Fable’ by Charles Yu

Yu, Charles 2016

Fable by Charles Yu, 2016

The magic trick:

Using a story frame – the narrator telling his story to a therapist – that encourages the starting, stopping and retelling of the narrative

More 2016 reading. More underwhelmed sighs from this reader.

These can’t be the best stories the New Yorker is getting sent. Seriously. Why am I not writing? What am I doing?

This story begins by lifting the quirky notion of fable in the modern world from Michael Cunningham, Steven Millhauser, and countless others, and presenting it as exceedingly clever. The writer’s voice is loose and very proud of its sense of humor to the point of annoyance. Severe annoyance.

The main magic trick, though, is the premise that the narrator is telling his story to a therapist. He stops and starts over several times, revealing new things along the way. It’s a neat trick. I thought it would bug me. And in fact, just thinking about it now, I’m kind of annoyed by the degree of contrivance involved. Yet it works. I can’t deny it. The narrator gets closer and closer to a true picture of himself by story’s end. And that’s quite a trick on Yu’s part.

The selection:

But the man was fine with this. Totally cool with it. Did not feel inadequate whatsoever. He landed a job with a medium-sized firm. The pay was a bit below market, and the position wasn’t exactly his first choice. Top three, maybe. Top fiveish. Somewhere in there. Nevertheless, again, the man could have done worse. Competently plying his trade afforded him a very livable existence. Allowed him to enjoy the company of loved ones. His parents were both gone now, and his sister lived in another kingdom, on the other side of the sea. But it wasn’t like he didn’t have friends. He totally had friends. People he could call to get the occasional beer or catch a movie. It was just that, well, there were those nights. Nights when the moon was new and the sky was dark, and the hour before dawn stretched out before him, threatening never to end. On those endless nights, he would lie in his cottage alone, looking through the window, up at the starless sky, and wondering: Was there a life for him out there in the world? Someone who would love him? Or could learn to love him or, at least, let herself be loved by him?

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