New Yorker fiction (Feb 28) – “Paranoia”

The New Yorker has made the story available online only to subscribers.

You write with your hand. You watch over your shoulder for the long arm of your past to catch up. You tousle your fingers through a youngster’s hair, soothing his anxious brow.

Author Saïd Sayrafiezadeh elbows all of these elements into his story. In an accompanying interview, he talks of friendship, illegal immigration and loss, of individual and family identity, the tribulations of childhood poverty, and the anxieties of a nation heading into war.

There certainly are a lot of issues here that need unpacking and more considered reflection. I’m not so sure they receive that depth of attention in this particular story. This narrative never felt compelling to me — I didn’t feel much sympathy for the characters and their troubles. The story appeared to me as much more of a sketch, a draft, introductory action taken on behalf of a cause, the bare bones of a narrative conjured into the open air.

One issue seemed to run into another one and even when they connected in sequence, no great amount of momentum was produced. In a way, of course, this is a key quality of early writing where a necessary first mixing of characters and situations takes place. It’s a bald, naked type of time:

The sky was cloudless, and I could feel the undiluted sun beating straight down on the top of my head. There were various empty buildings surrounding me, and I had the sensation that I was being watched by someone. I felt exposed in my shorts, as if my whiteness were made manifest by the paleness of my legs.

So, there wasn’t a firm and settled place from which to grasp this story; its lessons seemed vague, still being formed. A case, perhaps, of having to ‘talk to the hand’ because the mouth and ears aren’t yet fully prepared.


Among his other works, author and playwright Saïd Sayrafiezadeh has written a memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free, and a previous New Yorker story. He has a desert-island reading plan.

(“hand” from / jakub / cc by-sa)


1 Comment to New Yorker fiction (Feb 28) – “Paranoia”

  1. G-Bird's Gravatar G-Bird
    March 1, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the review of this New Yorker story. I felt exactly the same way. It seemed like a sketch for a much longer piece, specifically a novel. It did not work as a short story, and I was surprised that it was published in the New Yorker in its current form.

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