>The story in the September issue of Harper’s Magazine is “The Proposition” by David Bezmozgis. Up to the ending of this story, I was enjoying it. It’s about Roman Berman, an immigrant (to Canada) who is struggling financially but staying afloat because he has become a licensed masseur. He worries about his son and his wife and he also feels obligated to help other immigrants, especially family. He is visited by some petty criminals who want to leverage Roman’s legit license into a massage parlor, maybe a chain of them, but Roman isn’t sure he wants to take that risk.
“He would rather struggle and live modestly than gamble and lead that kind of life. He’d already experienced that kind of life. His father had lived this way. When they settled in Riga after the evacuation, his father had traded on the black market . . . He hadn’t known every detail, but he’d known enough about how his father made his living.”
Legality doesn’t seem to be the real concern for him, since he regularly participates in what amounts to fraud, but the proposition reminds him of that black marketeering of his father. Complicating things is Svirsky, a hard-luck newcomer who needs a car and Roman is in a position to help. The story is about the criminal proposition as much as it is about the proposed transaction with Svirsky, but what it’s really about, it seems to me, is Roman’s relationship with his son. The ending hinges on that and I wish Bezmozgis had etched that scene a bit deeper.