‘Son Of Friedman’ by Emma Cline

Son Of Friedman by Emma Cline, 2019

The magic trick:

Showing a character’s success in failing

Another Emma Cline about a grumpy, old man. Seriously, this is like her third such story in a three-year span in The New Yorker. This one particularly recalls Cline’s of “What Can You Do With A General?” in its lack of originality. The characters feel familiar. They don’t develop or change. They lay fairly flat as tropes.

But, also like “General,” I really like this story. That would seem contradictory, I know, but it’s true. Cline has good ideas in these stories, good observations about life.

In this one, I particularly liked the opportunity to see Benji succeed in failing. George, his father, is dour and desperate, a washed-up movie producer looking to make one more comeback. His son has taken up filmmaking too, and though his film fails by any measure George holds dear, Benji is thrilled by the moment. He is so happy to have made something, so excited to share it with his friends. There is a real beauty in that “art for art’s sake” idea.

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

The selection:

The theatre was one of those single-screen places any schmuck with a camera could rent out and show his movie for a weekend. You could probably show your vacation photos. Otherwise, it screened movies that had been out for months already, finally cheap enough for the theatre to afford. Benji had set up a step-and-repeat on the slushy sidewalk. A single loop of velvet rope clipped to two poles. Meagre, George thought, meagre. But how unkind. Rein it in, he thought—he was very drunk. He looked around for Benji but didn’t see him. There were two photographers there—maybe friends of Benji’s, he had no idea who else would be persuaded to come out, but who knows? They took a few photos of George and William together, William’s heavy arm on George’s shoulder. William was so tall. I’m shrinking and I’m old, George thought. It was a little bit funny. The camera’s flash blinded him for a moment, a crack of light—all this is vapor. George stepped away so they could take photos of William by himself. He watched William in his overcoat, smiling gamely. George was responsible for William’s presence there on the snowy sidewalk, in front of this step-and-repeat, being photographed by idiots. He was a good friend.


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