New Yorker fiction (Jan 18) – “A Death in Kitchawank”

As if we needed any prompting to consider again our stance in the midst of life’s vagaries, along comes a smooth and elegant story from T. Coraghessan Boyle that pushes its readers to do just that.

The life and times of a lakefront neighborhood are depicted in brisk and sweeping brush strokes over the course of several decades, encompassing childhood to widowhood. The simple moments of contentment some of the residents sometimes find are inevitably dimmed by intimations, subtle or not, that change is always afoot, no farther away than the very ground on which they stand:

And so what if the warm shifting sand beneath her feet has to be trucked in every other year at the expense of the Kitchawank Colony Association, its hundreds of billions of individual grains disappearing into the high grass, washing into the lake, adhering to toes and arches and tanned sinewy ankles only to wind up on bathroom tiles and beneath the kitchen sink? It’s as essential as air, as the water itself: how could you have a beach without it?

A beach without sand? As unthinkable, perhaps, as a life without change. This story, through the lives of its characters, is also a cautionary tale about the costs of lifelong inattention and inaction even (or especially) in the midst of ongoing transformation. If you notice the sands are shifting, are you obligated to do more than merely fill in the blanks?

From the window she can see the wall of the paddleball courts, which are empty at this hour on a weekday, and beyond them Rose Shapiro—eighty and stooped—pacing the beach as if she were making her way across the steppes of Russia like poor Dr. Zhivago, and the sight only depresses her the more. You marry, have children, cook, clean, get sick, get old, pace the beach till you can’t even remember who you are. That’s life. That’s what it is.

Unless, perhaps, you remember to remember another way that things might also be?

What she’s thinking is that she should do this more often—get out, enjoy life, breathe the air—and she makes a promise to herself that, starting tomorrow, she will.

T. Coraghessan Boyle is the author of twelve novels and nine story collections, the most recent of which–Wild Child and Other Stories–was published last week.

(“Broken fish-weir” (1923), from the Edward S. Curtis Collection, Library of Congress.)

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2 Comments to New Yorker fiction (Jan 18) – “A Death in Kitchawank”

  1. lynn's Gravatar lynn
    January 26, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    This is so timely – reading this reminds me so much of Anne Tyler’s latest, Noah’s Compass, which is from the POV of a retired 60 year old man. Sometimes there has to be a conscious effort to live life fully and see tomorrow as a different day. Otherwise, you’re just waiting for the end.

    I love TC Boyle and am looking forward to reading those stories.

  2. Daniel Nocivelli's Gravatar Daniel Nocivelli
    January 27, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the recommendation, Lynn — I’ll take a look at Noah’s Compass. It seems like a good book for the beginning of the year.

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