Wells Tower fans aren’t likely to be any happier with me than they were when I discussed his last story in The New Yorker. Lots of people loved that one; it left me cold. Kind of like this one, only worse.
Is “The Landlord” a novel excerpt? I don’t know. I do know from the Q&A with Wells Tower that Tower is working on a novel, and I also know that this isn’t satisfying as a story, so I hope for Tower’s sake that it’s an excerpt.
The “story” is in the point of view of the landlord, who has suffered large losses as a result of the economic downturn. But he’s still collecting some rent and is considering some asset sales to reduce his debts. In the course of the “story” we see him interacting with some of his tenants and employees and also with his daughter. He’s not particularly good in any of those relationships—he’s something of a pushover (reminding me a little of the lawyer narrator of “Bartleby the Scrivener”) and it’s not hard to see why he’s fallen on hard times. Each of the vignettes in the “story” is interesting, especially the one that frames the piece—his dealings with Armando Colón who seems to be trying to make good on his arrears. And then there’s the daughter, Rhoda, and it’s what is left out about her that makes me suspect this is drawn from the work-in-progress. And in the middle of it all are Todd, the violent carpenter/debt collector, and the big, young newcomer, Jason. Interesting, but do they really move this story forward? What story?
Okay, there’s some good writing here, and if this is from a novel it seems like it might be pretty readable. But as a story I don’t think it works.
September 13, 2010: “The Landlord” by Wells Tower
>I'm thinking this is a piece of something larger. I enjoyed the contrast of the polite, perfectly- dressed tenant with the swearing contractor and how the narrator was able to relate to and have compassion for both. The movement in the narrator seems to be from totally naive to having his naivete disrupted, but I don't really see it happening in the traditional arch of story. This is why it seems like something longer.