Black Box and Jon

This week we take a look at a couple of terrific stories from the New Yorker. It's no secret that I love Jennifer Egan's work. A Visit From the Goon Squad was my favorite book I read last year and I really enjoyed the Keep, which I read a few weeks ago. Her latest short story Black Box was published as a series of tweets, but has also been gathered into a more traditional format on the New Yorker website. The tweets were fun but the website might be a little easier to read.

Black Box is a fantastic story, which is also fantastical. Part spy story, part love story, and part science-fiction, Black Box is told in the second person. The protagonist is receiving a series of instructions, which are also the story. While the story should seem gimmicky, what with the 140 character limit and all, it didn't, at least not to me. I loved it and I loved the way it unfolded, each secret like a new petal on a blooming flower. You can read the full story for free here: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/06/jennifer-egan-black-...

Another story I loved is from the same source, the New Yorker. Written by George Saunders, Jon is a biting look at our consumer oriented society. It takes some current trends and riffs on them to create a world where children are submerged in constant focus groups and wired to give nonstop feedback on products. Jon is written in a style that reminded me of MT Anderson's Feed, which I absolutely loved. Like Feed, there is an awful of stuff going on off stage that Jon, the title character, isn't really aware of. Or maybe he notices, but doesn't get the real meaning or menace of what's happening. He's too insulated and ignorant to process or be truly aware.

At the beginning of the story Jon is excited because his friends have broken the rules and gotten together, resulting in a baby, which is allowed to stay with its teenage parents. Jon is soon following in his friend's footsteps, blissfully happy in his new role. (With the help of a little medication.) But Jon's love of his life is not as dazed as he is and her determination makes Jon rethink things. This story is hilarious, deeply unsettling and super, super, sad. You can read it for free here: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2003/01/27/030127fi_fiction?currentPage...

Another story I read recently that really resonated is Neil Gaiman's tribute to Ray Bradbury, which was written some time ago and was coincidentally released shortly after Mr. Bradbury's passing. Called The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury it's about the vagaries of memory and loss. It's also about the strong impact that beloved artists leave on us. It's a lovely story and comes with a little essay about how the story came to be. It's part of the new anthology Shadow Show and you can read it for free here: http://io9.com/5918839/must-read-neil-gaimans-tribute-to-ray-bradbury

A few more words (aka giant spoilers) about the Breaking Bad rewatch – season three is the season where I really start to loathe Walter. I've seen a lot of flack about Skyler being awful and whiny, most of which I put down to brainwashing from the patriarchy. In season three Skyler is really put through the ringer. Walt barges back into the house after she tries to separate from him and the police are unable to help her. While Walter hasn't physically hurt her, he is obviously out of control and he is a dangerous person, as we'll see through later episodes. I'm impressed with how well showrunner Vince Gilligan is able to portray the helplessness Skyler feels as her marriage disintegrates and she is painted as the bad guy. While Walter continually says his family is the driving force behind his actions, Skyler is the one who is actually trying to protect her children. She doesn't want to profit from the drug money and she puts up with a great deal of blowback as she tries not to let Walt Junior know why the marriage is failing. This is something I haven't seen talked about much in popular art and it's really nice to see an acknowledgment of just how difficult it can be. Well done, Mr. Gilligan.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a bit of a departure for me. Instead of being a comic, which has been my tradition, it's a spectacularly awful article about pranks. These are possibly the feeblest, most ridiculous pranks ever concocted. One of them shouldn't take anyone in – one example is you’re meant to tell someone who loves DIY to go to the hardware store and bring you a glass hammer. The author completely misses the point of this ancient “prank”, which is that you pull it on a complete newbie, who won't be likely to realize that you can't buy a glass hammer or a curve ball. The article is atrocious but the comments are pretty funny and some of them are extremely funny. And the article can be kind of amusing if you read it out loud in the most dramatic way possible. You can access it here: http://magazine.foxnews.com/love/10-pranks-will-spice-your-relationship