Tag: altered states

J. Robert Lennon, “The Loop” (2019)

the loop j. robert lennon

Movin’ On Up.

Groundhog Day meets a less interesting Gregor Samsa, the “ghoulish, insectile” characters being observed more than incarnated by the narrator. It’s the somewhat hokey but interesting story of a newly divorced woman with too much time on her hand who decides to volunteer for Movin’ On Up, a philanthropic moving company whose name winks, we’re not sure why (irony man, irony!), at the theme song from The Jeffersons. The people for whom furniture is being moved in the story generally have not much further room to go down. The story is interesting because of the insights within those homes, the characterizations of the “clients.” Its hook is less interesting, because unconvincing, unconnected to anything other than a device, a decision to create that “loop” where Bev relives again and again the Saturday when she puts in her volunteer hours, with a college girl who reminds her of her half-estranged daughter. Strange things begin to happen, like the bed frame that disappears, the second futon that appears next to the first, the table a client wants she never knew was in the truck. Things–“flaws,” Lennon calls them–like that. Things that aren’t even explicated by the loop, which is explained toward the end of the story. “The only time Bev felt she had her shit together was every other Saturday.” Turns out the only time she doesn’t have her shit together is every other Saturday, which apparently becomes every day. She wants her boring life back. But “That’s what had been taken from her–the absolute pristine uniqueness of each boring moment of existence.” Her memory loops, then there’s “the acceptance of the superfluity even of memory itself.” Strained words, strained theme, worth the ride in the truck, but unsatisfying: the experiment doesn;t sparkle.

The New Yorker, August 26, 2019 

Wharton, “A Journey” (1899)


Edith Wharton may have written this story as a way to kill her husband or soften the ground to her extrication by divorce: the man dies on a train “journey” from Colorado back to New York–his journey to oblivion, her journey to emancipation. But in a dozen pages Wharton manages to describe with forensic acuity the psychology of physical decline as witnessed by a spouse (with the disease and the decline again a metaphor for the degradation of a marriage), then to turn the story into a mini-thriller: the narrator’s husband dies many hour before reaching New York. Bad enough that she must deal with that, his cold hand. She doesn’t want to be thrown out of the train, as would be the norm. She must come up with endless subterfuges to deceive conductor and fellow-travelers, and does. In New York she must let on or “discover” that he’s dead. She appears to faint and strike her head on his berth, leaving it unclear whether she too has reached the end of the journey or has merely found a convincing way to spare herself accusations that she’d known all along he was dead.

She was too impenetrably healthy to be touched by the irrelevancies of disease. Her self-reproachful tenderness was tinged with the sense of his irrationality: she had a vague feeling that there was a purpose in his helpless tyrannies. The suddenness of the change had found her so unprepared. A year ago their pulses had beat to one robust measure; both had the same prodigal confidence in an exhaustless future. Now their energies no longer kept step: hers still bounded ahead of life, preempting unclaimed regions of hope and activity, while his lagged behind, vainly struggling to overtake her.

The lack of privacy, the presumptions of fellow-travelers, the oppressive legalities all add up to an imprisonment for the narrator that has more to do with the unbearable conventions of marriage and a woman’s proper role within it than with the dying or dead man on the train.

No periodical publication. “The Greater Inclination,” 1899