Thursday, January 7, 2010

Temporary



Marisa Silver's “Temporary” (The New Yorker, Sept. 28, 2009) seems to be a story about Vivian and Shelly: both are young and both live in downtown L.A.—that’s all they have in common. It’s really a story about the nervous and concerned Vivian, who was adopted by somewhat older, decent parents (they tell her she’s adopted when Vivian is a teenager and her mother appears to be in her deathbed). Vivian gets a job typing transcripts of interviews at an adoption agency. (This was the highpoint of the story for me: Vivian tries to imagine the people whose interviews she hears, and writes codicils at the end expressing her approval or disapproval.)


Vivian lives with Shelly, who seems to be well off and thus has no need to land a job (for which she seems inapt, anyway, even though she met Vivian at a temp agency: in retrospect, this detail seems off). Shelly leads a reckless life headquartered in an industrial space downtown, and invites Vivian to join her. Shelly sleeps with different people constantly, and only one (a man who distributes socialist propaganda) lasts enough to have an affair with Vivian; this pretty much snuffs Vivian and Shelly’s relationship, and as the story closes, Vivian knows that both her job and her living arrangements are finished.

It’s a good story. It seemed to tie in imperfectly, though, a series of spokes without a convincing hub. Its plot is not very strong, but there are good moments, some of them emotionally charged. Besides, some descriptions and insights are great; Silver pulls off some fabulous metaphors, which are always tricky: “She imagined the woman as delicate and fair, clasping her hands as if they were wayward children who might break something if she let them go”; “Her care felt like something that would drag down the progress of human development. It made her an awkward, embarrassing person who asked what book you were reading when all you wanted to do was go to the bathroom.”

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