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20 under 40

The New Yorker’s ‘20 Under 40’: Why Do They Hate Love?

Owing to a totally convenient two-hour delay on a runway yesterday, we had time to read The New Yorker's entire Summer Fiction issue, which includes short stories from eight of the magazine's 20 Under 40. Reading their — mostly very good! — pieces, it would have been hard not to notice a certain trend...

Most of the eight stories are about failed (or failing) romances:

• "Here We Aren't, So Quickly," Jonathan Safran Foer:
In this slightly gimmicky piece, sentences mostly beginning with the words "I," "You," or "We" add up to the story of a marriage. But a kinda sad ending — "I'm not disappointed, just quiet ... The more I remember, the more distant I feel" — hints at some midlife discord.

• "What You Do Out Here, When You're Alone," Phillip Meyer:
A husband whose wife basically hates him contemplates cheating while awaiting doctor's word on their comatose teenage son.

"The Entire Northern Side Was Covered With Fire," Rivka Galchen:
After she's suddenly abandoned by her husband, a pregnant woman discovers that he kept a secret blog: "I-Can't-Stand-My-Wife-Dot-Blogspot-Dot-Com."

"The Kid," Salvatore Scibona:
An American soldier stationed in Latvia falls in love with, and impregnates, a local girl. She won't marry him, though, and she later saddles him with their 5-year-old son, whom the soldier abandons in a German airport.

• "Twins," C.E. Morgan:
A woman raises twin sons herself without much help from their mostly absentee dad.

Only Gary Shteyngart's "Lenny Hearts Eunice" features characters happily in love (though we're led to be suspicious of Eunice's motives). Joshua Ferris's "The Pilot" makes no mention of any romantic problems, but its ending recalls the one of his recent novel The Unnamed, which was about a busted marriage. (The other story, ZZ Packer's "Dayward," is about a pair of runaway slaves whose relationship statuses are unclear.)

So five of the eight stories are cynical about love. Surely there is something to say here about divorce statistics of the past several decades and their effect on the attitudes of our young writers. Or about how hard it is for literary types to find dates. Since we spent all of yesterday reading The New Yorker, though, and are now behind on a bunch of other work, we hope it will suffice to lazily point out that if the rest of the "20 Under 40" is as love-hating as these authors, Sam Mendes won't ever need to worry where his next screenplay will come from.

Summer Fiction: 20 Under 40 [NYer]

Photo: New Yorker