‘Are We Not Men?’ by T. Coraghessan Boyle


Are We Not Men? by T. Coraghessan Boyle, 2016

The magic trick:

Revealing the story halfway through as not as normal as it first appeared, only to shift the focus back to normalcy thereafter

Looking back, the swearing parrot-crows were a sign.

So was the cherry-colored pitbull.

Come to think of it, the 11-year-old with ultraviolet eyes and a fluency in French was a bit odd as well.

“Are We Not Men?” seems normal at first, but then it’s not. Boyle waits until he’s halfway to (rather clumsily, in my opinion) explain that the story’s setting is some kind of super-future where genetic cloning has altered every aspect of society.

So now “Are We Not Men?” seems very weird, but then it’s not. In fact, the genetic cloning aspect of the story – which one would think would qualify as more than mere aspect – turns out to only be a side-theme.

The story boils down to the narrators’ decisions and their consequences. Which I suppose, judging by the title, is the story’s key idea. The not-so-normal, not-so-weird tug of war is an interesting way to get us back to zero. And that’s quite a trick on Boyle’s part.

The selection:

If the girl could read my face, she gave no indication of it. She came right up to us, the dog trotting along docilely at her side. Her violet gaze swept from me to the lump on the ground beneath the bloodied T-shirt and finally to Allison. “Je suis désolée, Madame,” she said. “Pardonnez-moi. Mon chien ne savait pas ce quil faisait—il est un bon chien, vraiment.”

This girl, this child, loomed over us, her features animated. She was wearing eyeliner, lipstick, and blush, as if she were ten years older and on her way to a night club, and her hair—blond, with a natural curl—spread like a tent over her shoulders and dangled all the way down to the small of her back. “What are you saying?” I demanded. “And why are you speaking French?”

“Because I can. My I.Q. is 162 and I can run the hundred metres in 9.58 seconds.”

“Wonderful,” I said, exchanging a look with Allison. “Terrific. Really. But what are you doing here, what do you want?”


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