>The New Yorker: "Or Else" by Antonya Nelson

>Antonya Nelson is a terrific story-teller and this piece is, I think, typical of her. In it, David Chalmers is an unsympathetic liar who tells a woman he meets in Tucson that his family has a home in Telluride, when in fact it is the home of a family with whom he spent several summers as a boy. In revealing this information to the reader, we learn about his unsatisfactory home-life and how he fell in love with the Hart family, the mother, the father, and three daughters. David and the woman break in to the house and are discovered there. David gets off lightly, although there are consequences to be sure. The crux of the story is in this paragraph:

“He never got away with anything, he thought. If it wasn’t an officer of the law pulling him over, it was a ticket in the mail, the indisputable evidence of his vehicle flying past a camera at many miles over the speed limit. What such a person might eventually ask himself was why he felt a need to break the rules, tell lies, have things to get away with. Why couldn’t he, in some definitive way, exhaust or outgrow his childish defiance?”

Why, indeed? And it is clear in the end that he he can’t, and that he isn’t just lying to others but also to himself. As much as I liked this story and Nelson’s languid style, I thought the ending hit a slightly false note. While I believe that he’s going to keep deceiving himself and others, the disjunctive in the last sentence seemed too flip a way of showing it – or else it wasn’t.

November 19, 2007: “Or Else” by Antonya Nelson

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  1. >Thanks for the link to this story. I really enjoyed it. I am a far bigger fan of that last syntactic twist: it matches the feeling, I think. Being a liar, I would know. Ha. My friend and former writing teacher Craig Wright tells his class a story about wandering around heartbroken one night, the victim of a girlfriend’s deceit. He was picked up by his friend, to whom he told the whole saga. And this friend listened, very patient, finally trying to give advice. “Being a liar,” is how he began, and Craig never forgot the honesty of that moment.

    Anyway, I enjoyed how abrupt and ho-hum the “red handed” moment plays. That’s the kind of stuff “people” are always telling you that you “can’t do.” Nice to see it done so clean and well.

    The only part I didn’t like: maple syrup is tart? Since when? But that’s just me being a twit.

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