To get through my day at my less-than-perfect job, I listen to a lot of podcasts. And as someone who loves books, many of those podcasts are related to story-telling or short stories. I’m often torn about escaping into these literary worlds because I often feel that, as a creative person, I should be more present in my everyday life & being aware of inspiration the world around me. But, the stories I listen to on Selected Shorts or the New Yorker Fiction podcasts are often so moving, they lift me out of my dull day & revive me.
This month, Jennifer Egan reads Mary Gaitskill’s “The Other Place,” an intense, haunting story about a grown man reflecting on his troubled mind as a teenager. Many listeners may be turned off by a story about a man who once reveled in violent fantasies against women. But I found Gaitskill balanced the tension of the story nearly perfectly & wrote her character in such a way that many listeners may find themselves more sympathetic to his point of view than they may realize. Egan herself mentions her own mesmerized reading of the story at the end of the reading. I was particularly struck by her insight:
In a funny way, especially when [the narrator] talked about what if felt like to have these urges when he was a teenager and how it made him feel so separate from his friends, even though they were all doing the same things–to me, that kind of isolation felt like something so many teens feel for so many reasons. Whether it’s that someone has an eating disorder and that’s what they’re thinking about or some other kind of addiction–the solitude of an unholy preoccupation and what that brings feels so universal to me that I guess in the end, I felt that the story was about that than a real story of this particular compulsion and how it might occur. . .
I’ll be listening to “The Other Place” again to uncover it’s simple, compelling charm again. But I’d recommend it to other lovers of fiction who are looking for a compelling story & are willing to reflect on the darker corners of their childhood memories.