>The New Yorker: "The Young Painters" by Nicole Krauss


I liked this “story” a lot. It’s not a short story, of course. It’s an excerpt from Krauss’s forthcoming novel. I wonder if all these excerpts mean that the editors of The New Yorker believe the short story is a dead art form. But then I thought the novel was supposed to be dead, so maybe the new new thing is the novel excerpt—neither story nor novel, but a digestible hunk of fiction.
Still, I liked this. The narrator (Nadia, according to the Q&A with Nicole Krauss, but not so identified in this excerpt) is speaking, or perhaps testifying, to a judge (or, as Krauss coyly says, someone whom she refers to as “Your Honor”).  She’s telling two stories to the judge, both of which are examples of her use of the lives of others in her fiction. She’s published a story she’s rather proud of that’s based on a horrifying anecdote a dancer friend has told her about the origins of a painting Nadia admired in the dancer’s apartment. And she’s written a novel in which her father features prominently. “Had he been able to read it,” she says, “I have little doubt that he would have felt betrayed.” Indeed. And that seems to be the dancer’s reaction, also, but he conveys his feelings in a mysterious gesture that the narrator doesn’t fully understand.
And after that, the anecdote that the dancer had told her seems to be haunting her.
Because this is an excerpt, I don’t see much point in analyzing this piece as a story, but I do like what it must contribute to a novel. Nadia, apparently, is one of four voices in the novel. Here she seems almost to be defending herself against, perhaps a charge of theft, and of course this raises questions that any writer can relate to—what, among the countless bits of information that our friends and relatives and, for that matter, total strangers tell us is usable in our fiction? It’s a tough question that this excerpt doesn’t answer, but it does intrigue me. I’m also intrigued by the dancer’s gesture—or what feels like a curse.
Should be a good book.
June 28, 2010: “The Young Painters” by Nicole Krauss

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  1. >Some excerpts seem to work, at least for me. This one, however, didn't do it for me. Personally, I liked ZZ Packer's "Dayward".

    BTW – is it just me or did you skip "The Kid" by Scibona from last issue?

  2. >Oops. I did it, but apparently didn't post it. Too many stories to keep track of! Coming right up. (And thanks for the reminder.)

  3. >My theory as to why TNY publishes so many novel excerpts is that, since they're intent on publishing only big names, for the most part, excerpts are the best thing they can get. If the "big guns" aren't producing short fiction anymore, TNY is perfectly content to comb through their works in progress for anything remotely approaching the semblance of a short story, print it, and hope that no one notices.

  4. >Dear Cliff

    I think Nadia, as she says in the last line, was haunted by the cry she heard after her encounter with the dancer not by the dancer's anecdote.

    Moreover, do you think that Nadia was accused of stealing people's private stories? and why she "began to distrust herself"?

  5. >One my favorite stories in the 20 Under 40 series. The language is tense, compact, as if the narrator were biting through a bit. The language is descriptive, without crossing into excessive lyricism. Even repetitions are crisp and calculated, like so: “I gave unforgiving descriptions of his crimes as I saw them, and then I forgave him” (but here I would’ve looked for a pinch hitter for the verb gave, to avoid a further and gratuitous repetition).

    The story builds suspense, and yet it does this without major plot twists. It lingers and resounds, rather than dash forward. I wonder how the “Your Honor” framework plays out in the novel. I would think the narrator is being questioned about her relationship with the dancer (and the musings on fiction as stealing come in through a side door). Maybe he committed suicide, or went missing. But that’s just a guess. I already wish-listed the novel on Amazon, so we’ll see.

    Another word on the musings I just mentioned: the discussions on the relationship artists develop with the world from which they draw are very interesting. Nothing new, but interestingly expressed: “I didn’t change any of the details; I only imagined more of them. […] He lived through it, and I made use of it, embellishing it as I saw fit.”

  6. >i think her writing about the painting revealed what was inside her. the dis-ease she feels is in facing herself, not the dancer.

    she admires his attributes/accomplishments. his reaction admits that her writing revealed something for which he was searching. then he can take the pic down.

    mebbe the dancer shares the desire (for a child) the pic stirs up something in him. he covers it up by throwing out a macabre tale, she ends up running with it. he isn't too happy with the revelation either apparently.

    there seems to be a sense that he knows her, sees her seeing him and is saying, it's not what you think. mebbe he recognizes that she sees something he couldn't/wouldn't.

    she seems to deny her longing for a child but the grief she feels is revealed when she passes the park. she is out of touch with herself. admitting it to her psychiatrist would mean she would have to face it.

    rambling, too lazy to go get book to validate points. feel free to delete if irritating in sloppiness

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