Psychopolis by Ian McEwan, 1978
The magic trick:
Structuring the story with the sole intention of getting the four main characters in the same room together in the final scene for a dramatic dinner party
McEwan seems to want to nail the Englishman abroad story while also sending it up at the same time. I think he fails on both counts.
We meet four main characters, and each is big and broad in their types. We watch them stumble through situation after situation that demonstrate McEwan’s blend of the shocking and comical that is so ripe for mainstream fiction and, hence, film. It’s all funneled toward the final scene, where all four meet, drink wine, and, predictably, all hell breaks loose.
It really makes you appreciate “Beginners,” the famous Raymond Carver story. He pulls a narrative out of a conversation between four people, too. But it’s a heck of a lot more believable and meaningful than this. Ultimately, “Psychopolis” is just as hollow as the Los Angeles the story attempts to expose.
That said, the layout is interesting. The notion of setting up four different characters throughout the story with the sole intention of getting them in the same room together at the end is pretty cool. And that’s quite a trick on McEwan’s part.
On Sunday night, after more than twenty-four hours of unbroken silence between us, I set Mary free. As the lock sprang open I said, ‘I’ve been in Los Angeles less than a week and already I feel a completely different person.’
Though partially true, the remark was designed to give pleasure. One hand resting on my shoulder, the other massaging her foot, Mary said, ‘It’ll do that. It’s a city at the end of cities.’
‘It’s sixty miles across!’ I agreed.
‘It’s a thousand miles deep!’ cried Mary wildly and threw her brown arms around my neck. She seemed to have found what she had hoped for.
As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.