‘FAQs’ by Allegra Goodman

FAQs by Allegra Goodman, 2017

The magic trick:

Portraying well the apathy and depression of young adulthood

If you read “Apple Cake” by Allegra Goodman, there’s a decent chance you are like me and thought Phoebe was the most interesting character of the family featured in the story. She was the hippie daughter taking a year off from college to “do something with her hands.” Potentially interesting, right?

So here we are with “FAQs,” the spotlight story on Phoebe. Just what we wanted!

Well, unfortunately, I’m going to file this one in the ol’ “be careful what you wish for” file. Phoebe’s immature but fascinating life choices in “Apple Cake” play more as selfish and boring when given a longer look in “FAQs.” The family infighting that felt vivid and painful in “Apple Cake” feels mean and offputting here.

I could go on. I simply didn’t enjoy this story nearly as much as I did its predecessor. Oh well.

It is worth noting that the depression Phoebe is lost within throughout most of the story is very well drawn. It doesn’t show itself through anger or sadness but instead a numb, lazy apathy. I think we’ve all probably been there.

And that’s quite a trick on Goodman’s part.

The selection:

And yet Phoebe’s parents had planted vegetables with her when she was little. They had hired a handyman to build a chicken coop in the back yard. The coop stood empty now, just a few downy feathers blowing in the wind. Beginning of freshman year, a fox had killed the hen named Scout. Weeks after that, Scout’s sister, Carrie, had disappeared. During spring semester, the last chicken, Mrs. Dalloway, had passed. Sometimes Phoebe questioned the level of care Mrs. Dalloway had received from Melanie and Dan. They had reverted so quickly to supermarket eggs.

“I’ll carry those,” Dan said.

“No, that’s O.K.” Phoebe shouldered her backpack and dragged her giant duffel upstairs. Nervously, her parents followed, weighted down with unasked questions. Was the boyfriend really history? Was Phoebe done homesteading? Could she register for school again?


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