“Another Life” by Paul La Farge

There’s a fantastic short story in this week’s New Yorker (July 2, 2012) by Paul La Farge called “Another Life,” which is about an English professor (aren’t stories by English professors about English professors the best?) in his late 30s who picks up the bartender of his hotel after his wife goes off to sleep with a man whom she meets while watching the Celtics game at the bar. The story is told in the second person, which is often gimmicky, but it works here because La Farge’s language is so vivid and urgent that the reader gets drawn into the story, thinking only about the actions of the characters and what they look like in one’s head and forgetting about the story’s form. For instance, here is the professor’s first kiss with the bartender: “Then the husband leaps forward and kisses April P, whose body is hot and full of instincts.” What a lovely line! It describes something cliche using language which makes fun of the cliche, but in a way that is not cliche, thus making it especially sharp. The story ends realistically, with both April and the professor going back to their dreary, normal lives, but this conclusion is not depressing because the force of their experience, of their brief entrance into the other “life” of the title, is the element of the story that sticks with the reader. Also, there is a hilarious scene where they do a few lines of cocaine off of the cover of the Norton Anthology of American Literature. Best use of a Norton ever!

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