This Is Not a Story!

So I’ll just start out by saying that if I were a literary publisher I, like The Antioch Review, would also print Emile Capouya’s short story “In the Sparrow Hills.” However, as its publisher I probably would have vetoed that title and gone for “This is Not a Story,” the first sentence or “hook” of this non-story, instead. “Metafiction”–I’m so glad I learned that word!–is definitely not for everyone, so its publisher must realize that a mainstream audience is probably going to have little interest in reading what is decidedly a non-story. Not only does “In the Sparrow Hills” have about 136 literary references in it–either that or 142!–but it also features a main character with a personality basically the spitting image of the very angry and awkward Larry David. Come to think of it, he is probably also a good model for the kinds of people who actually read and write stories like this–that is, stories about nothing.

One of the things I like about this non-story is how it begins with a setup that could be or maybe even was featured on an episode of Seinfeld and therefore could basically happen to anybody: an everyman (maybe George) goes to a diner and tries to pay for his food, but finds that his credit card has been inexplicably declined. Outraged–but just on the inside–by this assumed insult to his successfulness, the man alternatively pays in cash, but then spends the rest of the evening obsessively wondering if he accidentally overpaid the waitress. Although he can’t stop thinking about her and is obviously in love with her, he starts to actually convince himself that he hates her and that she intentionally screwed him over. By night’s end, he consoles himself with some pretty harsh thoughts concerning her strong odor, finally xenophobically declaring to himself that she totally ruins the atmosphere of this, his favorite restaurant, with her “patchouli” stink… –And all of this happens in just the first couple of pages, personally my favorite part. The non-story quickly digresses away from its universally compelling beginnings into a lot of shameless learned namedropping, certainly less accessible to people who haven’t read Chekhov and Turgenev and Conrad and Borges and Kafka and Orwell and Eliot and so on. But as a girl who loves references I still think it’s a pretty good read, as even by this non-story’s end I continue to like even the main character.

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