New Yorker fiction (Jan 3) – “Getting Closer”

A story, by longtime author Steven Millhauser, ushers us briskly and thoughtfully into this new calendar year, only a few dozen hours old.

A young Connecticut boy near the peak of his childhood is absolutely basking in the quiet beauty of a summer’s day with his family.

… what he cares about, what thrills him every time, is knowing that this is it, the beginning of the long-awaited day at the river, as agreed to by himself in advance. Everything’s been leading up to it and, in the way of things that lead up to other things, there’s an electric charge, a hum. He can feel it all over his body. The closer you get, the more it’s there.

Like Jimmy, we are poised always on the knife edge of the present moment. In every instant that follows, however, potential is razed and a new past and future are constructed. These Auld Lang Syne days focus our attention on the passage of time and on so much (and so many) gone by.

But now, as he stands at the end of waiting, something is wrong. He’s shaken deep down, as though he’ll lose something if the day begins. … When you have that feeling, everything’s full of life, every leaf, every pebble. But when you begin you’re using things up. … He sees it now, he sees it: ending is everywhere. It’s right there in the beginning. They don’t tell you about it. It’s hidden away in things.

Endings, oh yes, endings are everywhere. Where, then, are we to find beginnings?

This story reminded me of two novels I cherish, for the wholehearted way their characters engage that mystery of transformation — Dandelion Wine and Jim the Boy.

And, a few days ago, a video clip, “25 Years of Christmas” was posted with this brief explanation: “Every year, our dad would tape us coming down the stairs. This is a compilation of all the videos I could find. …”

Happy MMXI.


Steven Millhauser is the author of six collections and five novels, including Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer for which he was awarded the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His most recent collection is Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories. Millhauser is Tisch Professor of Arts & Letters in the Department of English at Skidmore College.

(“A little water drop” from Ken Mau / cc by-nc-nd)


2 Comments to New Yorker fiction (Jan 3) – “Getting Closer”

  1. January 4, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Between this and his story in last summer’s Tin House, I’m really looking forward to his next collection.

  2. January 4, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    As a writer, I was delighted to hear you mention Dandelion Wine. That’s one of those books I first read in high school, when the magic of the literature mixes in with the intensity of being a young reader.

    And it all comes back, even better, later.

  1. By on February 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm

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