And here we are, another week gone, and yet another issue of The New Yorker pulled from the humongous Pile of Stuff, but this one’s from 2012.
What the — ???
She remembers the story, one by Said Sayrafiezadeh (and no, don’t ever expect her to remember how to spell that name). That is, she remembers beginning it. And googling the author. In the two years between 2012 and now, he’s achieved some measure of success. Having a story published in The New Yorker can do that to you.
The story in this particular issue (January 16, 2012) is called “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy.”
A man volunteers for the army and gets shipped overseas (Country isn’t named. This might be science fiction, for all she knows). The story begins with his platoon, marching towards a distant hill. But the man’s mind keeps wandering (as self’s mind would keep wandering, too, if she was ever forced to take a protracted hike. It wanders when she’s in yoga class, even. Which is supposed to be pleasurable, with the cool wood floors and the dim lighting and the mood music and the fabulously toned teacher whispering encouragement in dulcet tones. Where were we? Better get cracking, self, as you have to return a whole pile of books to the library, books you checked out months ago, which you never got around to reading, and probably never will because next week you are going to Ireland)
Anyhoo, if anyone is planning to read this story, then read no further because THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.
As the narrator muddles on, he realizes
that I’d come here for all the wrong reasons. Vanity and pride topped the list. Girls, too — if I was being completely honest. In other words, ideals were very low. Staring at a hilltop that was getting closer and closer, I would have traded all of it never to have to see what was on the other side.
But the inevitable, ineffably boring future arrives: they take the hill. And, nothing. No enemy soldiers, no fortifications.
After we’d discovered nothing is when the boredom set in. Excruciating boredom. We’d eat, we’d shower, we’d clean, we’d train. In that order. Then we stopped training, because there was no point. That was about the fifth month.
This story is so good, it’s like Joseph Heller and Kafka, all mixed together. There is not one instance of bonding between the narrator and his fellow platoon members, so no, this is not the second coming of Tim O’Brien. But self likes it. Maybe it’s a little bit like Kobo Abe. The Woman in the Dunes? That kind of perplexing (and hopefully never explained) mystery.
This is probably the only New Yorker story she’s ever encountered that has an accompanying visual: a letter to our bored soldier, everything redacted except for the salutation and the “xoxo.” Ha, good one!
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.