Whenever I discover that a New Yorker “story” is an excerpt from a book, I lose my enthusiasm for commenting on it, no matter how well written it is. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with excerpts, but they should be approached and evaluated differently, which is why The New Yorker should disclose that it’s an excerpt.
So here we have an excerpt, which we know only because C.E. Morgan tells us so in the Q&A (link below). And of course you only see the Q&A if you go online looking for it, because it’s not in the print magazine.
I did go looking for it because this piece felt to me like an excerpt. There’s a lot of summary and there’s no real suspense or conclusion. I’m hopeful that the book will give us both the past and the future of the boys Allmon and Mickey, because this work succeeds in making me interested in them. Intriguingly, they are twins, one black and one white. Their mother is black and their father is “Mike Shaughnessy, truck driver, half-hearted Lothario, collector of children, poor Irish agnate, known in high school as that fucking Irish fuck.” The mother loves the guy and he’s around sometimes, but not all the time.
The excerpt culminates—after setting all that up—with a visit from Mike. He’s going to be with the boys while the mother is at work. But he’s been driving and he’s tired and . . . it doesn’t go quite as planned.
But that’s it. No real tension, no real suspense, no climax, no ending. Which is the problem with excerpts. I’d read more about the boys, and I think Morgan is a wonderful writer, but I don’t love this piece.
June 14 & 21, 2010 “Twins” by C.E. Morgan
[available online only to subscribers, but see Q&A with C.E. Morgan ]
>I agree: it does read like an excerpt. It plods forward like a novel. But, even though the twins are interesting characters, and their father is too, I can’t say I want to read the novel. The plot goes nowhere in these pages, and I don’t expect it will go somewhere if given many more pages to work with. It’ll probably loop around the same themes, which we’ve grasped in the excerpt.
The language deserves some comments. Morgan is very fond of sentence fragments, for instance, often piled into lists. Furthermore, there are similes and comparisons everywhere: some are convoluted, some are protruding, some are just there. E.g., “she simply sat cross-legged on the floor like a worn, hapless Buddha, a child on each thigh,” “[she] petted him on the head as though he were a sweet dog,” “he trailed around the room like a phantom,” and so on. Rich imagery comes up here and there (“[the sun] pressed smothering heat into his face, causing itchy rivulets of sweat to travel into his hair”). But there are often missed chances, like this description, which didn’t shine as much as it could have: “they woke to the astonishing crystal light of morning flooding through the huge windows.”
The plot does reach a peak near the end, where it delivers a blow with all its emotional muscle. But it used far too many pages to reach that point, and it’s enough about the twins for me.