SOUNDTRACK: Living with Music: A Playlist by Joshua Ferris (New York Times September 19 2007).
While searching for Joshua Ferris (see below) I came across this playlist from The New York Times. While I don’t agree with everything on the list, indeed, I haven’t heard of about half of the songs, I was delighted by several of his selections: Neutral Milk Hotel, Pearl Jam, and of course, Godspeed! You Black Emperor. I also really enjoy the unusual Pink Floyd selection, too (Meddle being a favorite album of mine).
What I enjoy most about the list is that he tacks on a book that you might read that somehow ties to the song (I don’t know what the specifics are as I have yet to read any other “Living with Music” Playlists). But it reminds me of an inverse of this very blog.
The article is available here.
[READ: August 3, 2009] “The Valetudinarian”
I knew the name Joshua Ferris sounded familiar, but couldn’t remember exactly why. Then I remembered that he wrote Then We Came to the End which I liked quite a bit. So I looked him up and found out that in addition to that novel, he’s only had a few short stories published in total. And now I’ve read two out of the seven. In terms of ratio of books read, that practically makes him my favorite author!
I should have looked up the definition of the title of this one: valetudinarian
which basically means invalid.
In this story, when Arty Groys retires, he and his wife move to Florida. The day after the move, she was killed in a head-on collision. And so, Arty is in a new housing complex, in a new state, all by himself.
He has gone through the motions of establishing a new life, but he realizes that he still has very few friends, even several years after moving there. And, the friends he has made, like his golfing buddies, he has begun to alienate. He has also started a feud with his neighbor Mrs Zegerman because of her barking shih-tzu.
The only friend he maintains is Jimmy Denton. And so, when Arty’s birthday arrives only Jimmy Denton sends him a present.
But before that arrives we get a hilarious look at Arty on the phone. His kids call him to wish him a happy birthday. And the phone calls reminded me of some of my older relatives who would talk about illnesses–real and imagined–to anyone who didn’t hang up, including, in Arty’s case, his 6 year-old granddaughter. I’m not going to quote the whole thing because that would deprive anyone of reading it in context, but this section was too funny:
Like many older people who find themselves on the phone with children of unstable attention spans, Arty began to talk non-stop, flinging at his granddaughter every expression of pride and love, interspersed with questions intended not to sate a genuine curiosity but to confirm Meredith’s continued presence on the other end of the line. … Do you like going to the doctor? I don’t like it because it always means there might be something terribly wrong with me. You should be very happy that there’s nothing wrong with you yet, Meredith. You have your teeth, you can go outside and run around, your bowels have yet to liquefy.”
When Jimmy Denton’s present arrives at his door, Arty is pretty sure the present is a prostitute. Which she is. Which kind of freaks Arty, but which secretly makes him want to thank Arty quite a bit.
As the evening continues, the prostitute tries to convicne Arty to take the little blue pill. He resists because of his heart. But when the prostitute explodes out of Arty’s apartmnt with fear in her eyes, we are pretty sure that Arty took the pill.
Mrs Zegerman, displeased about the unsavory character in her neighbors apartment, hears the ruckus and finds Arty on the floor. She tries to help him to the doctor.
That sounds like I gave away the whole story, but it’s far from over. The remainder of the story is intriguing and funny and has two new developments that I didn’t expect.
The only problem I had with the story was the end. Not that it was bad, but it left a little too much unstated. (This is a problem a with a lot of non-genre fiction in my opinion… I know the point is not to hit the reader over the head with a happy or sad ending, and usually I appreciate that, but often you just want one more line that will solidify what we’re pretty sure we know.) In this story, I understand the point he is making. I just wish we had one line extra about Mrs Zegerman just to see her reaction to the end. Or maybe one more line about the other woman at the end of the story.
But aside from that, the story was very funny, and I definitely wound up sharing my favorite bits with Sarah. It’s available here.
Now, Joshua Ferris, if I can track down your other five stories, I will have read your entire published output.